By Kim Bo-eun
Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol is to visit the U.S., Wednesday, for what appears to be high-level talks, amid a flurry of preparations for the Pyongyang-Washington summit that is presumably to be held June 12 in Singapore.
Kim is set to take a flight to New York departing at 1 p.m., Wednesday. He arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport a day earlier.
He is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to finalize the framework for North Korea’s denuclearization ahead of the summit. Kim was accompanied by Choe Kang-il, a diplomat in charge of U.S. affairs, who was also seen at the airport.
He will be the highest ranking North Korean official to visit the U.S. since 2000.
Ahead of Kim’s visit to the U.S., working-level talks took place at the truce village of Panmunjeom between delegations led by the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who was a former ambassador to South Korea and the top envoy for the six-party talks for North Korea’s denuclearization.
Kim Yong-chol, regarded as the right-hand man of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has played a key role in arranging the North Korea-U.S. summit. He held meetings with Pompeo, alongside the North Korean leader when the U.S. secretary of state made two earlier visits to Pyongyang in March and May.
The earlier meetings focused on how to guarantee the North Korean regime’s security by establishing diplomatic relations with the U.S. in return for Pyongyang giving up its nuclear program.
In March, Kim Jong-un told South Korean envoys who visited Pyongyang that the regime had no reason to have nuclear weapons if its security was guaranteed.
The meeting this time is likely to nail down the deal ahead of the summit, after it was cancelled due to a series of verbal provocations from the North, and then revived after a surprise meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in, Saturday. Kim Yong-chol was the only official from the North who accompanied the North Korean leader when he held the secret meeting with Moon at Panmunjeom.
Speculation has grown that the preparatory meetings for the summit may discuss North Korea sending nuclear weapons to the U.S. as a token of its willingness to move toward denuclearization.
The U.S. has stated it is ready to trade with and invest in North Korea if it achieves complete denuclearization.
Meetings for the summit also took place in Singapore between the North’s Kim Chang-son, chief secretary of the National Defense Commission Secretariat, and Joe Hagin, White House deputy chief of staff of operations, to discuss protocol and security affairs for the summit.
Meanwhile, the U.S. postponed additional sanctions on North Korea as the two states prepare for the summit, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal that cited U.S. officials.
The sanctions targeting over 30 companies including Chinese and Russian entities with business ties to the North were planned to be announced Tuesday, following the initial cancellation of the summit.
Source: The Korea Times