Kim Jong Un's right-hand man in US to set stage for summit

Top North Korean general Kim Yong Chol arriving at the airport in Beijing en route to Washington on Thursday. He is the first North Korean dignitary in nearly two decades known to have spent the night in the US capital.
Top North Korean general Kim Yong Chol arriving at the airport in Beijing en route to Washington on Thursday. He is the first North Korean dignitary in nearly two decades known to have spent the night in the US capital.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He is expected to hold talks with Pompeo and President to finalise new Trump-Kim summit

WASHINGTON • A top North Korean general paid a rare visit yesterday to Washington, where he is expected to meet United States President Donald Trump to finalise a new summit aimed at denuclearisation and easing decades of hostility.

Mr Kim Yong Chol, a right-hand man to leader Kim Jong Un, is the first North Korean dignitary in nearly two decades known to have spent the night in the US capital, little more than a year after Mr Trump was threatening to wipe the totalitarian state off the map.

Under light snow, Mr Kim Yong Chol and his entourage were seen exiting a motorcade and, without comment, entering a fashionable hotel in the lively Dupont Circle neighbourhood.

The State Department confirmed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would meet Mr Kim Yong Chol yesterday.

A US source, who could not be identified as the exact schedule has not been announced, said Mr Pompeo would invite Mr Kim Yong Chol to an early lunch before the two likely head together to the White House, a short drive away.

Mr Trump has voiced optimism after receiving what he called a warm New Year's letter from Mr Kim Jong Un, and has opined that the two leaders are "in love".

Mr Trump has repeatedly voiced eagerness to see the North Korean leader again after their landmark summit in Singapore last June, the first meeting between sitting leaders from the two countries that never formally ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Tensions began to abate a year ago, with the encouragement of South Korea's dovish government.

Mr Trump has repeatedly hailed his diplomacy as a triumph, saying recently that there would have been "a nice big fat war in Asia" if it were not for him.

 
 
 
 
 

He has said one can expect an announcement soon about the second summit, with diplomats seeing Vietnam and Thailand as possible venues.

Mr Pompeo, in a recent interview, voiced hope at reaching a deal with North Korea that would "create a much better, safer America", but cautioned that it was unlikely to be finished during the next summit.

A diplomatic source told Reuters yesterday that high-ranking diplomats from the US and North Korea were now holding talks in Sweden.

"They are meeting over the weekend," the source said, adding that the delegations included North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui and US Special Re-presentative for North Korea Stephen Biegun.

According to the Dagens Nyheter daily, the meeting started on Thursday and will continue at the weekend. Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom is also meeting the diplomats.

The purpose of the meeting is to continue to build on the last summit in Singapore, the Dagens Nyheter reported.

Meanwhile, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has said his country is willing to host the second Trump-Kim summit.

Vietnam has cropped up in the swirl of rumours and conjecture over a possible site for the meeting, with the capital Hanoi or the coastal city of Danang seemingly the most likely bases for the summit.

Mr Phuc said on Thursday that he would be open to hosting it. "We don't know the final decision. However, if it happens here, we will do our best to facilitate the meeting," he told Bloomberg TV.

A Vietnamese government source who wished to remain anonymous said logistical preparations were under way for a Trump-Kim summit, although no official decision had been made.

"There is lots of work to be done, not only for Danang, but also some other locations for the event. The Vietnamese side is ready to host... but it is not up to us to decide."

Like several other South-east Asian countries, Vietnam maintains diplomatic ties with both communist-run Pyongyang and Washington, and is keen to host major global events as it tries to project a more confident global profile.

Communist Vietnam hosted a major Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Danang in 2017 attended by global leaders, including Mr Trump.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'Kim's right-hand man in US to set stage for summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe