North Korean ex-spy chief arrives in US

Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York Wednesday, ahead of a potential summit in Singapore between the leaders of the two countries next month.

Kim, the most senior North Korean official to visit the US in 18 years, was seen exiting the Corinthian building in Manhattan at around 8.30 p.m., following a dinner with Pompeo, America’s chief diplomat.

The meeting came as the two sides look to revive the prospects of an on-again off-again summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, originally scheduled for 12 June but later canceled by Trump.

A senior State Department official described the meeting as an opportunity for the two sides to begin outlining both the content of the proposed summit as well as what needs to be done to make it happen.

The meeting, which is thought to have lasted around 90 minutes, is the third between the two men following Pompeo’s two trips to Pyongyang earlier this year.

Both sides have now laid out what they want from the potential summit, the State Department official said, suggesting that pre-summit talks will now focus on finding a viable path towards North Korean denuclearization.

The issue, long a sticking point between the two countries, could yet derail plans for any potential Trump-Kim meeting, as the US makes clear that North Korea “must do things they haven’t done before” before talks between the two leaders can get underway, said the State Department official.

“We are looking for something historic. We are looking for something that has never been done before,” said the official.

What precisely that means remains unclear, but the North Korean regime has historically shown an unwillingness to relinquish its nuclear capabilities, which it views as a guarantee of survival.

According to the official, Pompeo’s meeting is part of a renewed effort by the US to convince the North that denuclearization will set the North on the course of a “brighter future.”

Previously, the US has floated the idea of providing the North with economic assistance and sanctions relief should it agree to a timetable for abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

‘We will be ready’

Prior to Kim’s arrival in New York, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the administration was still aiming for a June 12 meeting.

Referring to denuclearization, Sanders said that, “as long as that is part of the discussion, we’re going to focus on the June 12” date.

“We are preparing and expect that to take place on June 12 and if not,” she said, “we’ll be ready on July 12.”

Pompeo and Kim’s high-level meeting comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity on both sides of the Pacific.

Over the weekend, Kim Jong Un called an impromptu second meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-In at the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries and reiterated his apparent commitment to denuclearization.

This was followed Monday by preparatory summit talks between US diplomats and North Korean officials, also at the Demilitarized Zone.

On Wednesday a source familiar with US-North Korean relations revealed that the visiting US delegation, led by Philippines Ambassador Sung Kim, had extended its stay “for at least another day.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Pyongyang Thursday for meetings with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho.

Lavrov is the latest in a string of high-level meetings staged by North Korea following years of isolation, as it looks to build alliances and strengthen its negotiating position ahead of the possible June 12 summit.

Earlier this month, Kim Jong Un traveled to the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the second meeting between the two leaders since March.

About turn

Wednesday’s meeting between Pompeo and Kim represents a remarkable turn-around given that the talks nearly fell apart last week when Trump said he was calling off the June 12 meeting in Singapore.

The White House said in a background briefing that North Korean officials hadn’t answered their calls, frustrating their attempts to plan for the meeting.

But they also complained about a senior North Korean foreign ministry official’s comments after he dismissed Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy.”

Pence had drawn a comparison between the administration’s hopes for North Korea and the “Libya model,” which could be a reference to starkly different things. It could be read as a way for the country to divest itself of nuclear weapons, or seen as a reference to the overthrowing and killing of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Kim Yong Chol is a powerful surrogate for Kim Jong Un. The vice chairman of North Korea’s Party Central Committee, he is the top official in charge of relations between North and South Korea and has been present in all recent high-level meetings with South Korea.

He is also a former head of North Korea’s Reconnaissance Bureau, an espionage and special operations organization. He is believed to have been involved in a torpedo attack that sank the South Korean warship Cheonan in 2010, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify a US delegation is staying in South Korea for at least an extra day. It’s not clear if they will extend their meetings with North Korean officials.