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Kim Yong-chol will meet Trump, sources say

Jan 19,2019
Kim Yong-chol, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee vice chairman, kicked off a visit to Washington Thursday evening that is expected to speed along plans for a second U.S.-North Korea summit, likely to happen within the next few months.

Kim was expected to have talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and pay a courtesy call to U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House Friday, bearing a personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said diplomatic sources. The White House and U.S. State Department remained mum about Kim Yong-chol’s official schedule in Washington as of Thursday.

Kim, who doubles as director of the North’s United Front Department, which is responsible for inter-Korean relations, arrived in Washington around 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening on a United Airlines flight from Beijing.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, greeted Kim at Dulles International Airport.

Kim became the first high-ranking North Korean official to fly directly into Washington and was spotted an hour later being escorted by a motorcade from the airport to the Dupont Circle Hotel, located near the White House. Kim was accompanied by a delegation of around 10 people including Kim Song-hye, a senior official of the United Front Department, Choe Kang-il, a deputy director general for North American affairs at the North’s Foreign Ministry, security and an interpreter.

Kim had initially been scheduled to hold high-level talks with Pompeo in New York in early November, but that visit was canceled at the last minute. Kim delivered a letter from Kim Jong-un on his last visit to the White House on June 1, which helped put back on track the June 12 Singapore summit.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told Bloomberg TV Thursday that the Southeast Asian nation was “ready to host” a North-U.S. summit and “do our best to facilitate the meeting.”

Seoul is closely monitoring the results of Kim Yong-chol’s discussions in Washington, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in did not have any official schedule Friday. He was set to be briefed by aides on the North-U.S. talks.

“I am aware that North Korea and the United States have already discussed the location, date and agenda,” a key Blue House official said Friday. “While it is difficult to make predictions, we look forward to good news.”

Trump has previously made important announcements such as receiving letters from Kim Jong-un and announcing summit details on Twitter. Thus, the official added, “President Trump may, at any moment, make an announcement of a second North-U.S. summit over Twitter.”

Suh Hoon, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, was revealed Friday to have made a secret visit to Washington last Sunday to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Gina Haspel, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Kim Yong-chol was said to have met with Suh at the end of last year, according to a source familiar with the matter, and conveyed the North Korean leader’s “intention to hold a second North-U.S. summit.”

Kim Yong-chol is a former head of North Korea’s intelligence agency and was expected to meet with Haspel on his trip.

On the same day of Kim Yong-chol’s arrival, the Trump administration unveiled its 2019 Missile Defense Review, which said that North Korea’s nuclear missile program “continues to pose an extraordinary threat” to the U.S. mainland, while recognizing “a possible new avenue to peace” exists.

The Pentagon report said North Korea “has neared the time when it could credibly” threaten the U.S. homeland with a missile attack by investing considerable resources in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and conducting “extensive” testing.

“As a result of these test programs, North Korea now has the capability to threaten the U.S. homeland with a nuclear-armed missile attack,” the report added. “The United States will remain vigilant, while also seeking to address this potential threat diplomatically.”

The report noted that North Korea has in the past several years “rapidly advanced and expanded its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program.” North Korea halted its nuclear and missile testing over the past year.

BY SARAH KIM, SHIM KYU-SEOK [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]