North Korea's Kim Yong Chol, center, leaves a hotel in New York, Wednesday, May 30, 2018. The senior North Korean official arrived in New York on Wednesday in the highest-level official visit to the United States in 18 years, as President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un sought to salvage prospects for a high-stakes nuclear summit.
AP/Andres Kudacki
Top North Korean official lands in US for talks with Pompeo
Christopher Bodeen, Josh Lederman, Matthew Lee (philstar.com) - May 31, 2018 - 8:36am

NEW YORK — A senior North Korean official arrived in New York on Wednesday in the highest-level official visit to the United States in 18 years, as President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un sought to salvage prospects for a high-stakes nuclear summit.

Kim Yong Chol, the former military intelligence chief and one of the North Korean leader's closest aides, landed mid-afternoon on an Air China flight from Beijing. Associated Press journalists saw the plane taxi down the tarmac before the North's delegation disembarked at JFK International Airport.

During his unusual visit, Kim Yong Chol had dinner Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled from Washington to see him. The two planned a "day full of meetings" Thursday, the White House said. Their talks will be aimed at determining whether a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, originally scheduled for June 12 but later canceled by Trump, can be restored, U.S. officials have said.

The talks come as preparations for the highly anticipated summit in Singapore were barreling forward on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, despite lingering uncertainty about whether it will really occur, and when. As Kim and Pompeo were meeting in New York, other U.S. teams were meeting with North Korean officials in Singapore and in the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone.

"If it happens, we'll certainly be ready," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the Singapore summit. Regarding the date for the meeting, she added, "We're going to continue to shoot for June 12th."

North Korea's flurry of diplomatic activity following a torrid run in nuclear weapons and missile tests in 2017 suggests that Kim Jong Un is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there are lingering doubts on whether Kim will ever fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival in a region surrounded by enemies.

Trump announced that Kim Yong Chol was coming to New York for talks with Pompeo in a tweet on Tuesday in which he said he had a "great team" working on the summit. That was a shift from last week, when Trump announced in an open letter to Kim Jong Un that he had decided to "terminate" the summit following a provocative statement from the North.

Pompeo, Trump's former CIA chief, has traveled to Pyongyang twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong Un, and has said there is a "shared understanding" between the two sides about what they hope to achieve in talks. South Korean media speculated that Pompeo could make a third trip to Pyongyang and that Kim Yong Chol was carrying a personal letter from Kim Jong Un and might push to travel to Washington to meet with Trump.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York is its sole diplomatic presence in the United States. That suggests Kim might have chosen to first go to New York because it would make it easier for him to communicate with officials in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. North Korea and the United States are still technically at war and have no diplomatic ties because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Trump views a summit as a legacy-defining opportunity to make the nuclear deal that has evaded others, but he pledged to walk away from the meeting if he believed the North wasn't serious about discussing dismantling its nuclear program.

After the North's combative statements, there was debate inside the Trump administration about whether it marked a real turn to belligerence or a feint to see how far Kim Jong Un could push the U.S. in the lead-up to the talks. Trump had mused that Kim's "attitude" had changed after the North Korean leader's surprise visit to China two weeks ago, suggesting China was pushing Kim away from the table. Trump's letter, the aides said, was designed to pressure the North on the international stage for appearing to have cold feet.

White House officials maintain that Trump was hopeful the North was merely negotiating but that he was prepared for the letter to mark the end of the two-month flirtation. Instead, the officials said, it brought both sides to the table with increasing seriousness, as they work through myriad logistical and policy decisions to keep June 12 a viable option for the summit.

Kim Yong Chol is a vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee. The last official of his stature to visit the United States was Jo Myong Rok, the late first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, who visited Washington in 2000, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

The White House emphasized that it has remained in close contact with South Korean and Japanese officials as preparations for the talks continue. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on June 7 to coordinate their thinking ahead of the summit. Trump hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week.

Moon, who has lobbied hard for nuclear negotiations between Trump and Kim Jong Un, held a surprise meeting with the North Korean leader on Saturday in an effort to keep the summit alive.

___

Lederman reported from Washington and Bodeen from Beijing. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller and Catherine Lucey in Washington and Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

DONALD TRUMP KIM JONG UN NORTH KOREA UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 20, 2018 - 10:44am

The United States formally concluded that North Korea ordered the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, a half-brother and potential rival to ruler Kim Jong-Un, with the VX nerve agent.

"This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD program of any kind," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

The finding triggered another layer of US economic sanctions against Pyongyang, just as South Korea reported that the regime is ready for talks to end a nuclear standoff.

June 20, 2018 - 10:44am

North Korean state media say the country's leader Kim Jong Un thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his support in last week's groundbreaking summit with President Donald Trump.

Kim is in Beijing during his third visit to China this year, underscoring the major improvement in relations between the communist neighbors.

A report by the Korean Central News Agency says Kim expressed his gratitude to Xi in a meeting on Tuesday, during which Xi "gave high appreciation and extended heartfelt congratulations" to Kim over the summit. — AP

June 19, 2018 - 2:18pm

South Korea says a joint military exercise scheduled with the U.S. has been suspended to support ongoing talks both countries have with North Korea, The Associated Press reports.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said Tuesday that her government believes the decision will help maintain momentum in the talks.

She spoke after the U.S. and South Korea announced that the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills slated for August have been called off.

June 14, 2018 - 2:00pm

South Korean President Moon Jae-in says South Koreans strongly support the outcome of the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and that bad reviews of the meeting were from people "isolated" from public thinking.

South Korea's presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom described Moon's comments from the president's meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday.

Pompeo said while in Seoul that Trump's tweet about North Korea no longer posing a nuclear threat was made "with eyes wide open."

Kim says Moon and Pompeo also agreed that Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang could collaborate on recovering the remains of soldiers missing and presumed dead from the 1950-53 Korean War. — AP

June 14, 2018 - 11:24am

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there will be no sanctions relief for North Korea until it denuclearizes.

Pompeo is pushing back on a report from North Korean official state media that said President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un had agreed to a "step-by-step" process. That was interpreted as meaning the U.S. would grant concessions to North Korea concessions along the way despite longstanding U.S. insistence that it would not.

Pompeo says Trump has been "incredibly clear" about the sequencing of the process.

Speaking alongside Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers in Seoul, Pompeo says that "we're going to get denuclearization." He says that "only then will there be relief from the sanctions." — AP

June 14, 2018 - 8:54am

The rival Koreas are holding rare high-level military talks to discuss reducing tensions across their heavily fortified border following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's summit with President Donald Trump.

It's possible North Korean officials during Thursday's talks will seek a firm commitment from the South on stopping military drills with the United States.

Trump said after his summit with Kim on Tuesday that the joint military exercises should stop. South Korea has said it's trying to discern Trump's meaning and intent.

Seoul's Defense Ministry says the military talks will focus on carrying out agreements from a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in which they vowed to take steps to reduce military tensions and eliminate the danger of war.

They may also discuss efforts to recover the remains of Korean War soldiers. — AP

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