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Top NK official heads to US as summit negotiations continue

North Korean spymaster Kim Yong-chol was confirmed to be headed for the US, adding another dimension to ongoing summit negotiations between the two countries.

Kim, vice chairman of the North’s ruling party, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, and his name was confirmed to be on the manifest of a New York-bound flight scheduled for Wednesday. 

US President Donald Trump later confirmed in a Twitter post that Kim was on his way to New York to discuss the summit, describing Kim's trip as "solid response to my letter."

It remains unclear who will meet Kim in New York, but speculations have risen that he will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. 

In this image made from video, Kim Yong-chol (in white), a former military intelligence chief who is now Kim Jong-un‘s top official on inter-Korean relations, walks upon arrival at Beijing airport in Beijing Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap)
In this image made from video, Kim Yong-chol (in white), a former military intelligence chief who is now Kim Jong-un‘s top official on inter-Korean relations, walks upon arrival at Beijing airport in Beijing Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap)

Kim Yong-chol’s trip comes as working-level negotiations on the agenda, logistics and security of the summit continued in Singapore and on the Korean Peninsula.

On Sunday, the US and North Korea began talks concerning the agenda of the summit on the North’s side of Panmunjeom truce village. The two sides are thought to have resumed negotiations Tuesday.

The talks are spearheaded by Sung Kim, current US ambassador to the Philippines and former special envoy to the six-party talks on denuclearization of North Korea. The US National Security Council’s Korea specialist Allison Hooker and Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, are also part of Sung Kim’s team. The North is represented by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. 


North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il (Yonhap)
North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il (Yonhap)

Details of the talks and the US delegation’s movements are being closely guarded, but local media reported that a conclusion is within reach.

According to reports that cited unnamed diplomatic sources, the atmosphere of the talks “was not bad,” and discussions are likely to be wrapped up within the day.

Along with talks on the summit’s agenda, negotiations on issues regarding security and logistics were expected to start in Singapore on Tuesday.

For the Singapore talks, Kim Chang-son is heading the North Korean delegation, while the US is represented by White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin.

Kim Chang-son, a close aide of North Korea’s ruling Kim family and high-level party official, had also been spotted in Beijing on Saturday. Kim Chang-son’s earlier visit to Beijing sparked speculations -- most notably from South Korean lawmaker Rep. Park Jie-won -- of another meeting between Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Park was a close associate of late President Kim Dae-jung, under whose administration he played a central role in inter-Korean issues.

While meetings aimed at salvaging the Trump-Kim summit continued, North Korea and the US took contrasting actions.

On Tuesday, the North’s state-run newspaper called on the US to call off joint military exercises with South Korea, again contradicting Seoul’s earlier statements on Pyongyang’s stance.

Upon returning from Pyongyang in March, Seoul’s National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong had claimed that Kim had an “understanding position” on the joint drills.

The US, in contrast, has reportedly decided to hold off new sanctions against the North indefinitely.

According to US media reports citing White House sources, the US government has chosen not to impose new sanctions -- originally set to be announced Tuesday -- while working-level talks are underway.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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