In the latest sign that the recently "canceled" US-North Korea summit - which as we and so many others speculated was merely a negotiating ploy by Trump - is now fully back on, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent one of his top aides to New York to meet with US officials in New York this week, Bloomberg reported. President Trump announced the official's impending arrival in a tweet sent early Tuesday.
Kim Yong Chol, the former head of North Korea's spy agency, is the highest-ranking NK official to visit the US since 2000, when Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok met with then-President Bill Clinton. This time, Kim will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The meeting is the latest sign that preparations for the June 12 summit in Singapore are rapidly progressing.
The two officials previously met in North Korea earlier this month before the North decided to release three American prisoners as a gesture of good faith.
"Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more," Trump said in a tweet where he happened to misspell the envoy's name. "Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!"
We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2018
Kim is considered to be one of the closest officials to leader Kim Jong Un, even accompanying him during meetings with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in. South Korea said Tuesday that it wasn't aware of Kim Yong Chol's trip. The diplomat also holds the position of vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee. He's expected to land in New York on Wednesday after boarding a flight from Beijing, according to Yonhap.
Other meetings between representatives of the US and North Korea are happening as well. A delegation led by Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines, is meeting with North Korean officials at the border village of Panmunjom, the site where the Korean War Armistice was signed, and more recently the location of a historic meeting between Kim and Moon. Meanwhile, Kim Chang Son, another aide to North Korea's leader, arrived in Singapore on Monday to discuss logistics and security arrangements.
The two sides are trying to figure out how North Korea will go about giving up its nuclear weapons. For what it's worth, Trump has recently suggested that he might support North Korea's preferred "phase-in" approach.
While talks are ongoing, the US has decided to hold off on imposing any major new sanctions on the North, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
South Korean officials declined to comment on Kim's trip to the US, But a spokesman for South Korea's Blue House said the continued talks were unfolding at a "very critical time" and presented an opportunity to "escape the fear of war," according to WSJ.
"This is a once-in-70-years opportunity," he said, referring to the division of the Korean Peninsula after World War II. "If we lose this chance, we might have to wait another 70 years."
One analyst told WSJ that Kim Yong Chol's visit to the US means the talks between the two sides are almost ready to be finalized.
"He's going there to make a final signoff before the summit," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.
Trump has repeatedly praised the North on twitter in recent days, suggesting that his own view has softened. In a tweet announcing the arrival of a US team in North Korea, Trump said he believes the North has "great economic and financial" potential.
Our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself. I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2018