Published: Sat, June 02, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Kim Yong-chol: N Korea leader Kim Jong-un's right hand man

Kim Yong-chol: N Korea leader Kim Jong-un's right hand man

A team of US officials crossed into North Korea on Sunday for talks to prepare for a summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, as both sides press ahead with arrangements despite the question marks hanging over the meeting.

According to The Post, Sung Kim, a former USA ambassador in South Korea and former nuclear negotiator with North Korea, crossed the inter-Korean border to meet with Choe Son Hui, a senior diplomat in Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry. Two weeks of hard-nosed negotiating, including a communications blackout by the North and a public cancellation by the US, appeared to be paying off as the two sides engaged in their most substantive talks to date about the meeting.

The US and South Korea blacklisted Kim Yong Chol for supporting the North's nuclear and missile programmes in 2010 and 2016, respectively.

"Solid response to my letter, thank you!"

Kim Yong Chol is a vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee.

Trump withdrew from a planned June 12 Singapore summit with Kim last Thursday, then quickly announced that the meeting could get back on track. Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Lavrov would hold talks with North Korea's foreign policy chief to discuss bilateral issues as well as the overall situation on the Korean peninsula.

Trump initially scrapped the June 12 summit after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials demanding unilateral disarmament.

On Sunday Mr Trump said the USA team had arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit, tweeting: "I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day". Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk also did not say whether Seoul knew of any USA plans regarding Kim Yong Chol's visit, such as whether he and Pompeo will meet.

The North had tested missiles believed to be capable of reaching the United States, but Trump has vowed not to let Pyongyang develop one that could deliver a nuclear warhead.

Kim Chang-son (L), North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's de facto chief of staff, prepares to get into a vehicle as he leaves a hotel in Singapore on May 29, 2018.

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Since then, North Korea has rejected US demands for it to unilaterally abandon its nuclear program, which experts say could threaten the United States.

Trump appears optimistic that a meeting with Kim will take place, sending updates on the proposal on Twitter over Memorial Day weekend. The last official of his stature to visit the United States was Jo Myong Rok, the late first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, who visited Washington in 2000, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Kim is set to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he arrives in NY.

White House also said on Tuesday that Trump would meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on June 7. It remains unclear whom Kim Yong Chol will meet in the United States.

Despite Kim's apparent eagerness for a summit with Trump, there are lingering doubts about whether he will fully relinquish his nuclear weapons, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival.

Kim Yong Chol has been a central player in the recent negotiations between North Korea and South Korea, as well as the United States.

When Pence visited South Korea for the Olympics, he visited a memorial honoring the sailors who died. Reports said that talks continued until Tuesday.

During his tenure as a senior intelligence official, Kim was accused by South Korea of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. Since then, North Korea has rejected United States demands for it to unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

The former intelligence chief is also thought to be behind the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures and was among those sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in its aftermath. North Korea and the United States are still technically at war and have no diplomatic ties because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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