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Top-ranking North Korean aide arrives at the White House for historic meeting
AN aide to Kim Jong-un has arrived at the White House, becoming the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit in 18 years.
Kim Yong-chol was greeted on Friday (local time) by White House chief of staff John Kelly, who brought him inside the White House to meet President Donald Trump.
Kim Yong-chol is expected to hand deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, to Mr Trump.
The letter comes as the two countries work to revive a Trump-Kim summit on June 12 in Singapore.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly escorts North Korean Kim Yong-chol to the White House. Picture: AFP
Kim Yong-chol, who was previously black-listed by the US because of his role in his country’s military establishment, is the most senior North Korean visitor to the United States since Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok visited Washington in 2000 to meet President Bill Clinton.
Kim Yong-chol was driven from New York to Washington a day after talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on preparations for the June 12 encounter.
Both sides have committed themselves to the “denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula, but it is far from clear if Mr Trump’s mission to secure Pyongyang’s complete disarmament can be aligned with Kim Jong-un’s quest to win international respect and protection.
Kim Yong-chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of Kim Jong-un’s closest aides is hand delivering a latter to Mr Trump. Picture: AP
After Thursday’s talks, Mr Pompeo expressed confidence that the process was moving in the right direction, but warned that the North’s young leader must be bold enough to make a “strategic shift” in understanding that he will be safer without nuclear weapons.
On the same day in Pyongyang, the North Korean leader told Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that his commitment to denuclearisation remains “unchanged and consistent and fixed,” but experts warn that he will likely seek deep concessions from Washington.
In particular, he wants a formal end to the Korean conflict and is likely to seek international recognition and guarantees against any strike by the US forces stationed across the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in South Korea.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo resumed talks in New York this week with Kim Yong-chol, as the pair work to salvage next month’s nuclear summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Picture: AFP
The delivery of the letter from Kin Jong-un comes only a week after Mr Trump threatened to consign the entire process to history, abruptly cancelling the summit in a sharply-worded letter, only to revive preparations a day later.
Since that short-lived crisis, diplomats from both countries have conducted an intense flurry of talks, culminating this week when Mr Pompeo sat down in New York with Kim Jong-un’s envoy.
“It will take bold leadership from Chairman Kim Jong-un if we were able to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world,” Mr Pompeo said.
“President Trump and I believe Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kind of decisions, and in the coming weeks and months, we will have the opportunity to test whether or not this is the case.”
US President Donald Trump is to receive a letter from his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un in a much-anticipated moment as preparations for a historic nuclear summit gain pace. Picture: AFP
Mr Pompeo also said that, after what have now been two meetings with Kim Jong-un and three with Kim Yong-chol, he believes the North is at least ready to consider addressing US demands for denuclearisation.
“I believe they are contemplating a path forward. They can make a strategic shift. One that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision,” he said.
US officials now expect the summit to go ahead, but they want Pyongyang to accept that nuclear disarmament be at the heart of the discussion — and warn there can be no end to sanctions without it.
Asked whether the answer would come in the letter, Mr Pompeo said he did not know but added: “We have made real progress in the last 72 hours toward setting the conditions.”
“The conditions are putting President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un in a place where we think there could be real progress made by the two of them meeting,” he said.