Top North Korea envoy meets Pompeo, headed for talks with Trump

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escorts Vice Chairman of the North Korean Workers' Party Committee Kim Yong Chol, North Korea's lead negotiator in nuclear diplomacy with the United States, into talks aimed at clearing the way for a second U.S.-North Korea summit as they meet at a hotel in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escorts Vice Chairman of the North Korean Workers' Party Committee Kim Yong Chol, North Korea's lead negotiator in nuclear diplomacy with the United States, into talks aimed at clearing the way for a second U.S.-North Korea summit as they meet at a hotel in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A North Korean nuclear envoy held talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday and was then due to meet President Donald Trump at the White House, a diplomatic flurry aimed at laying the groundwork for a second U.S.-North Korea summit.

The visit of Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyan’s lead negotiator with the United States, marked a rare sign of potential movement in a denuclearization effort that has stalled since a landmark meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year.

Kim Yong Chol and Pompeo, with tight smiles, posed together for photographs at a Washington hotel before holding about 45 minutes of talks that could determine whether the two sides can make headway. There has been no indication of any narrowing of differences over U.S. demands that North Korea abandon a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States or over Pyongyang’s demand for a lifting of punishing sanctions.

Hours before Kim Yong Chol’s arrival on Thursday, Trump – who declared after the Singapore summit in June that the nuclear threat posed by North Korea was over – unveiled a revamped U.S. missile defense strategy that singled out the country as an ongoing and “extraordinary threat.”

The State Department said after the meeting that Pompeo had a “good discussion” with Kim Yong Chol “on efforts to make progress on commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore.” But it provided no specifics.

After the talks with Pompeo, Kim Yong Chol, a hardline former spy chief, the White House confirmed that he would hold a meeting with the president in the Oval Office later on Friday.

The high-level visit could yield an announcement of plans for a second summit. Both Trump and Kim have expressed an interest in arranging but some U.S.-based analysts say it would be premature due to the lack of obvious progress so far.

Their first meeting produced a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but he has yet to take what Washington sees as concrete steps in that direction.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alistair Bell)

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