Makiko Inoue contributed reporting in Tokyo and Su-hyun Lee contributed reporting in Seoul.
North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are to set to meet in New York, adding to speculation that arrangements for the US-North Korea summit may be in their final stages.
On Wednesday, Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee and director of the committee’s United Front Department, left for New York aboard a China Air flight from Beijing. The flight is scheduled to arrive at the John F. Kennedy International Airport at 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday.
According to the US Department of State, Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo will meet later this week to discuss the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
At a press briefing Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Pompeo will head to New York on Wednesday and return on the following day.
Nauert declined to comment on the agenda of the Kim-Pompeo meeting, saying only that the two are meeting for the third time, and that they had “very deep conversations, where they’ve talked about a lot of detail about the United States expectations.”
|This combination of file pictures shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and Vice Chairman of North Korea`s ruling Workers` Party Central Committee Kim Yong-chol. (AFP, pool photo) (Yonhap)|
Seoul’s presidential office welcomed the news of the meeting, with a high-level official commenting that summit preparations appear to be “moving along smoothly.”
The official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, again stressed that a possible three-way meeting involving President Moon Jae-in will depend on the outcome of the US-North Korea summit.
As for Kim Yong-chol’s itinerary, reports citing unnamed diplomatic sources say that he had initially booked a Tuesday’s flight to Washington DC but changed his flight upon arriving in Beijing on Tuesday.
The change in Kim’s itinerary sparked a number of speculations, including that the North Korean official may have delayed his trip to consult with Beijing.
A local news agency reported that Kim’s destination was changed to New York due to the symbolism a trip to Washington DC would have.
Nauert, however, downplayed the symbolism carried by the location, focusing instead on the significance of the meeting.
“I think it shows the importance of this meeting to look forward and look ahead to the planned meetings that the president would have with his counterpart in the future,” Nauert said in a press briefing, according to State Department transcript.
Kim’s scheduled meeting with Pompeo comes as two other US-North Korea negotiations continue.
Sung Kim and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagen are in talks with North Korea respectively the Demilitarized Zone and Singapore. Sung Kim, US ambassador to the Philippines and former nuclear envoy, is discussing the agenda of the summit, while Hagen’s team is working out logistics issues.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com