General the most senior N. Korean official to visit US since 2000

General Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee, is reported to be scheduled to fly to the US today after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing.
General Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee, is reported to be scheduled to fly to the US today after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing.

SEOUL • A senior North Korean general is headed to New York to discuss an upcoming summit, United States President Donald Trump said yesterday, the latest indication that an on-again-off-again meeting between Mr Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un may go ahead next month.

Gen Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea's central committee, was scheduled to fly to the US today after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing an unidentified source.

He will be the most senior North Korean official to meet top officials for talks in the US since Vice-Marshal Jo Myong Rok met then President Bill Clinton at the White House in 2000.

The future of North Korea's nuclear programme, US security guarantees, and coordination for a Trump-Kim summit are likely to be at the top of the agenda in any talks between Gen Kim Yong Chol and officials in the US, analysts said.

"The most important agenda item would be the method of denuclearisation," said Mr Moon Sung Mook, a former South Korean military official who negotiated with the North Korean regime in the past.

Previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency, Gen Kim now serves as head of the United Front Department, the arm of the ruling party that handles relations with South Korea. In this role, he travelled to the South in February during the Winter Olympics, which provided the springboard for the current diplomatic frenzy, and was prominent during an inter-Korea summit on April 27.

He coordinated the North Korean leader's two meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month and this month.

During his tenure as a senior intelligence official, Gen Kim was accused by South Korea of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. He was linked by US intelligence to a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

The US and South Korea blacklisted him for supporting the North's nuclear and missile programmes in 2010 and 2016, respectively, so a visit to the US would indicate a waiver was granted.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'General the most senior N. Korean official to visit US since 2000'. Print Edition | Subscribe