WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump could announce a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as soon as today, following an expected meeting at the White House with a North Korean envoy, said US and Asian diplomats.
Mr Kim's lead negotiator, former spymaster Kim Yong Chol, is expected to carry a letter from the North Korean leader to Mr Trump when he arrives in Washington. He is expected to meet Mr Trump today, in what would be a repeat of an unusual diplomatic move ahead of the first summit between the two leaders last June.
The White House has not announced the envoy's visit, which comes amid wrangling within the administration over terms for a second Trump-Kim meeting and the promised eradication of North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Mr Trump has been upbeat about a second round of face-to-face negotiations with Mr Kim, despite a lack of measurable progress towards disarmament. "With North Korea, we have a very good dialogue," he said on Jan 6. "I'm going to not go any further than that. I'm just going to say it's very special. And anybody else but me, you'd be in war right now."
If announced soon, the summit would likely take place in March or April, with Danang, Vietnam, appearing the most likely venue, according to people familiar with the flurry of diplomatic activity.
Mr Trump and Mr Kim have exchanged letters in recent weeks, two people briefed on aspects of the diplomacy said. "We are working to make progress on our goal of achieving the final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea, and the President looks forward to meeting Chairman Kim again at their second summit at a place and time yet to be determined," said a White House spokesman who requested anonymity.
Mr Kim Yong Chol, who was set to arrive last night, is also expected to meet Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel, who has become more involved in matters related to Pyongyang's nuclear threat in recent months.
If the two sides make progress, US officials are hoping to establish the first working-level talks between US special representative to the negotiations, Mr Stephen Biegun, and his North Korean counterpart, Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui.
Pyongyang has repeatedly given Mr Biegun the cold shoulder and denied meetings with him, but people familiar with the deliberations said the two could meet shortly in Western Europe if Mr Kim Yong Chol's visit goes well.
North Korea is believed to have solidified its negotiation strategy after meetings between Mr Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week. It remains under heavy US sanctions, including limits on travel, so Mr Kim Yong Chol's trip could take place only with high-level approval.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to meet the North Korean official on this visit, but it is clear that North Korea's goal is to speak directly with Mr Trump, said diplomats and others who follow the rogue regime closely.
"I think the North Koreans have come to the conclusion that the only one they can deal with is Trump," said Mr Ken Gause, a North Korea expert at the Centre for Naval Analysis. "They believe this is a leader-to-leader relationship."