A top North Korean official headed to NY on Wednesday for talks aimed at salvaging a summit between Kim Jong Un and president Donald Trump on the future of Kim's nuclear program, in the North's highest-level mission to the United States in 18 years.
Led by Sung Kim, the USA ambassador to the Philippines and former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, the United States officials first met their counterparts including Choe Son-hui, North Korea's vice foreign minister, on Sunday.
The Washington Post reported that the U.S. delegation to the Panmunjom meeting - in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea - was led by Sung Kim, a former United States ambassador to South Korea and former nuclear negotiator with the North.
Kim Yong-chol is the first high-level North Korean official to step foot on USA soil in 18 years.
"Solid response to my letter, thank you!" tweeted Trump.
General Kim is one of several North Korean officials under USA sanctions, but State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was sure the US had taken appropriate steps to allow him to visit NY unmolested.
The North Korean envoy was scheduled to fly to the United States on Wednesday after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.
In Washington, lawmakers and former US intelligence officials expressed general support Sunday for proceeding with the summit, but many reacted skeptically to North Korea's suggestion that it is open to discussing denuclearization.
Kim Yong Chol is to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and would be the highest-level North Korean official to travel to the U.S. since 2000.
In the call, Trump and Abe also "affirmed the shared imperative of achieving the complete and permanent dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missile programs", according to a White House statement.
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Kim Yong Chol was directly sanctioned by the Treasury Department for his involvement in North Korea's nuclear program and illicit activities while he served as director of intelligence, so the United States would have had to grant a waiver to allow him to enter the country.
Events have moved quickly since Kim Jong Un made a conciliatory New Year's address at the end of last year, with Trump in March accepting Kim's invitation to meet following months of sharply rising tension and warlike rhetoric between the two.
After the North's combative statements, there was debate inside the Trump administration about whether it marked a real turn to belligerence or a feint to see how far Kim Jong Un could push the U.S.in the lead-up to the talks.
The North Koreans, after expressing initial enthusiasm about diplomacy with the U.S. earlier this month, did not show up for a preparatory meeting in Singapore, threatened to use nuclear force and referred to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as a "political dummy". White House officials characterized the letter as a negotiating tactic, created to bring the North back to the table after a provocative statement and a decision to skip planning talks and ignore preparatory phone calls. The countries were expected to hold another set of working-level meetings in Singapore to discuss protocol, security and other logistical issues for the summit.
The officials may discuss bridging the gap between Washington and Pyongyang on what a deal on the North's nuclear weapons would look like. Reports said that talks continued until Tuesday.
Kim Yong Chol's official title is a vice chairman of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party.
"This combination of positions in the party and state makes Kim one of the most powerful figures in North Korea", according to North Korea Leadership Watch, a website that tracks senior regime figures".
Kim is believed to be behind the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship known as the Cheonan in 2010 that ultimately killed 46 sailors.
Despite Kim's apparent eagerness for a summit with Trump, there are lingering doubts on whether he would ever agree to fully relinquish his nuclear weapons when he may see them as his only guarantee of survival. -North Korea talks there. He was linked by U.S intelligence to a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.
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Trump's letter, the aides said, was created to pressure the North on the global stage for appearing to have cold feet. Activist Kim Young-hwan speaks at a symposium on North Korean human rights in Seoul on May 31, 2018.
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