North Korea, US talks heading in right direction: US envoy Sung Kim

"We believe that we are moving in the right direction to the ongoing series of consultations," said US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.
"We believe that we are moving in the right direction to the ongoing series of consultations," said US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.PHOTO: TWITTER/AMBASSADOR SUNG KIM

SEOUL (REUTERS) - Talks between the United States and North Korea are heading in the right direction, said a US envoy who led preparatory talks with North Korea for a possible summit between the two countries.

"We believe that we are moving in the right direction to the ongoing series of consultations," US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, a veteran diplomat and expert on North Korea, told South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung Hwa on Friday (June 1).

He held several rounds of summit preparatory talks with North Korean negotiators this week at the truce village of Panmunjom, on the fortified border between the two Koreas.

The discussions in Panmunjom have focused on possible agenda items for Trump and Kim, while meetings in Singapore are more focused on logistics, officials said.

In a separate high-level meeting on Friday, officials from North and South Korea agreed to hold talks later this month on military issues and reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, they said.

At a planned meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington, Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of Kim Jong Un, will hand over a letter from the North Korean leader as the two sides try to put a derailed summit meeting back on track.

Trump hopes to meet Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 and pressure him to give up his nuclear weapons, although he conceded on Thursday that might require more rounds of direct negotiations.

"I'd like to see it done in one meeting," Trump told Reuters. "But often times that's not the way deals work. There's a very good chance that it won't be done in one meeting or two meetings or three meetings. But it'll get done at some point."

It was not clear what North Korea's leader wrote in his letter to Trump, and White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said late on Thursday that the details of the meeting in Washington were still being worked out.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to meet Trump at the White House at 1 pm (1700 GMT).

After trading threats of war last year, Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed to meet for an historic summit on June 12.

But Trump cancelled the meeting last week, citing Kim's "tremendous anger and open hostility" in a string of public statements.

Even as he pulled out, though, Trump urged Kim to "call me or write" if he wanted to revive the meeting.

Within a day, both sides were in new talks to save the summit, and Kim Yong Chol flew to New York this week to meet Pompeo, raising hopes that the summit might be back on.

Despite saying the two sides made "real progress", Pompeo also cautioned that there might be no quick solution.

"They'll have to choose a path that is fundamentally different than the one that their country has proceeded on for decades. It should not be to anyone's surprise that there will be moments along the way, that this won't be straightforward,"he said.

NUCLEAR THREAT

North Korea's nuclear weapons programme has made significant advances in recent years and poses a threat to the United States.

Trump's main goal in any talks is to eliminate that threat. Kim has rejected previous US calls for North Korea's unilateral nuclear disarmament and argued instead for a "phased"approach to denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula.

That in the past has also meant removal of the US nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan.

In Pyongyang, Kim hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, while a Kremlin spokesman told reporters a summit between Russian and North Korean leaders could take place. During his meeting with Lavrov, Kim said his will to see denuclearisation on the peninsula remained "unchanged, consistent and fixed" and hoped improved North Korea-US relations would be solved on a "stage-by-stage" basis.

The North Korean general's visit to the White House on Friday will be the first since 2000, when President Bill Clinton met senior figure Jo Myong Rok in an unsuccessful attempt to win the reclusive nation's nuclear disarmament.

They met for 45 minutes and Jo brought Clinton a letter from Kim Jong Il, the late father of North Korea's current leader. Jo wore full military uniform when he was with Clinton, then donned a business suit to meet then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

To make his trip to the United States this week, Kim Yong Chol needed special permission for travel to the United States because he had been blacklisted. South Korea has accused him of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean warship and an island in 2010, and US intelligence linked him to a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.