A North Korean envoy was headed for Washington on Jan. 17, for expected talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a possible encounter with President Donald Trump to lay the groundwork for a second U.S.–North Korea summit, according to a person familiar with the matter.
News of the impending visit came even as Trump unveiled a revamped U.S. missile defense strategy that singled out North Korea as an ongoing and “extraordinary threat,” seven months after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after which Trump declared that the threat the country posed had been eliminated.
Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyang’s lead negotiator in denuclearization talks with the United States, was due to meet Pompeo on Jan. 18, a person familiar with the plan said, the first major sign of potential movement in a diplomatic effort that has appeared stalled for months.
The North Korean visit could yield an announcement of plans for another summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who held a first meeting in Singapore in June, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kim Yong Chol, a hardline former spy chief, boarded a flight to Washington from Beijing on Jan. 17 and was expected to arrive in the U.S. capital in the early evening, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said earlier.
Pompeo had planned to meet his North Korean counterpart to discuss a second summit last November, but the meeting was postponed at the last minute.
Diplomatic contact was resumed after Kim Jong Un delivered a New Year speech in which he said he was willing to meet Trump “at any time,” South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, told reporters last week.
Kim Yong Chol was last in Washington in June, when he delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump that opened the way for the June 12 Singapore summit.
That meeting yielded a pledge from the latter to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and Trump declared the next day that there was “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan noted that North Korean missiles remained a “significant concern” in introducing the report, while at the same event, Trump himself only mentioned North Korea in passing, saying negotiations he had conducted should have been done years ago.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom and Phil Stewart.