North Korea talks heading in right direction, U.S. envoy says

North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol speaks ahead of a working dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York, U.S., May 30, 2018. U.S. Department of State/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Holland and Hyonhee Shin

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – Talks between the United States and North Korea are headed in the right direction, a top U.S. envoy said on Friday, ahead of a rare visit to the White House by a senior North Korean official.

At a planned meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of Kim Jong Un, will hand over a letter from the North Korean leader as the two sides try to put a derailed summit meeting back on track.

Trump hopes to meet Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 and pressure him to give up his nuclear weapons, although he conceded on Thursday that might require more rounds of direct negotiations.

“I’d like to see it done in one meeting,” Trump told Reuters. “But often times that’s not the way deals work. There’s a very good chance that it won’t be done in one meeting or two meetings or three meetings. But it’ll get done at some point.”

In Seoul, U.S. negotiators expressed optimism after meeting their North Korean counterparts for preparatory talks at Panmunjom, on the fortified border between the two Koreas.

“We believe that we’re moving in the right direction to the ongoing series of consultations, including (U.S. Secretary of State) Pompeo’s engagement with Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol … our discussions at Panmunjom and of course the discussions in Singapore as well,” U.S Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, a veteran diplomat and expert on North Korea, told South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-hwa.

The discussions in Panmunjom have focused on possible agenda items for Trump and Kim, while meetings in Singapore are more focused on logistics, officials said.

In a separate high-level meeting on Friday, officials from North and South Korea agreed to hold talks later this month on military issues and reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, they said.

It was not clear what North Korea’s leader wrote in his letter to Trump, and White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said late on Thursday that the details of the meeting in Washington were still being worked out.

Pompeo is slated to meet Trump at the White House at 1 p.m. (1700 GMT).

After trading threats of war last year, the two men agreed to meet for an historic summit on June 12. But Trump canceled last week, citing Kim’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” in a string of public statements.

Even as he pulled out, though, Trump urged Kim to “call me or write” if he wanted to revive the meeting.

Within a day, both sides were in new talks to save the summit, and Kim Yong Chol flew to New York this week to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, raising hopes that the summit might be back on.

Despite saying the two sides made “real progress”, Pompeo also cautioned that there might be no quick solution.

“They’ll have to choose a path that is fundamentally different than the one that their country has proceeded on for decades. It should not be to anyone’s surprise that there will be moments along the way, that this won’t be straightforward,” he said.


North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has made significant advances in recent years and poses a threat to the United States. Trump’s main goal in any talks is to eliminate that threat.

Kim has rejected previous U.S. calls for North Korea’s unilateral nuclear disarmament and argued instead for a “phased” approach to denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula. That in the past has also meant removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan.

In Pyongyang, Kim hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, while a Kremlin spokesman told reporters a summit between Russian and North Korean leaders could take place.

During his meeting with Lavrov, Kim said his will to see denuclearization on the peninsula remained “unchanged, consistent and fixed” and hoped improved North Korea-U.S. relations would be solved on a “stage-by-stage” basis.

The North Korean visit to the White House on Friday will be the first since 2000, when President Bill Clinton met senior figure Jo Myong Rok in an unsuccessful attempt to win the reclusive nation’s nuclear disarmament.

They met for 45 minutes and Jo brought Clinton a letter from Kim Jong Il, the late father of North Korea’s current leader.

Jo wore full military uniform when he was with Clinton, then donned a business suit to meet then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

To make his trip this week, Kim Yong Chol needed special permission for travel to the United States because he had been blacklisted.

South Korea has accused him of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean warship and an island in 2010, and U.S intelligence linked him to a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

U.S., North Korea to hold second day of nuclear talks

North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol arrives at a hotel in New York, U.S., May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Rodrigo Campos and Daniel Bases

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong Chol enter a second day of meetings in New York on Thursday as they try to settle nuclear weapons disagreements and set the stage for an historic summit between their leaders.

The two men left a 90-minute private dinner at a New York apartment on Wednesday night without providing details about their conversation. Another round of talks is due on Thursday.

A Secret Service agent gestures outside of entrance where North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are meeting in New York, U.S., May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A Secret Service agent gestures outside of entrance where North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are meeting in New York, U.S., May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The United States has been demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program amid reports that it is close to being able to launch a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States.

Pyongyang has long argued that it needed nuclear weapons for its security.

There were reports earlier on Wednesday that South Korean officials were noting “quite significant” differences between the United States and North Korea over denuclearization.

The New York meetings follow high-level conversations Pompeo held in North Korea in April and earlier in May and are intended to get negotiations between the two long-time adversaries back on track.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un had been scheduled to hold an unprecedented summit in Singapore on June 12. Disputes between Washington and Pyongyang led Trump to cancel the meeting, only to see a renewal of diplomatic efforts in recent days.

“The potential summit …. presents DPRK with a great opportunity to achieve security and economic prosperity,” Pompeo said on Twitter on Thursday, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The people of North Korea can have a brighter future and the world can be more peaceful,” he said.

Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of Kim Jong Un and vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, is the most senior North Korean official to meet top U.S. officials for talks in the United States in nearly two decades.

In Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un welcomed visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the first meeting between a Russian official and Kim as head of state.

Lavrov invited Kim to Russia, and called for a phased approach to denuclearization, including easing of international sanctions on North Korea.


The United States, in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons, could potentially loosen sanctions, leading to possible food and other aid to impoverished North Korea and improved ties with South Korea.

A senior U.S. State Department official briefed reporters separately as Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol met late on Wednesday. The official, who asked not to be identified, said North Korea is “going to have to make clear what they are willing to do” in response to Washington’s demands.

Trump, the official said, “can make a fly or no-fly decision anytime he wants,” referring to the possible Singapore summit.

If not enough progress is made to lead to a productive meeting between Trump and Kim Jung Un, the official said, “we will ramp up the pressure on them and we’ll be ready for the day that hopefully they are ready.”

The two Koreas have technically been at war for decades, even though the Korean War’s military combat ended in 1953, because a peace agreement was never signed.

China, North Korea’s main trading partner and a key ally, said it supported and encouraged the “emerging good faith” between the United States and North Korea.

“At the same time as working to achieve the goal of denuclearization, we should also build long-term and effective initiatives to keep peace on the Korean peninsula,” China’s foreign ministry Hua Chunying said in Beijing.

Russia has appeared to be on the fringes of a flurry of diplomacy, but Lavrov’s visit was a move to raise its profile in international efforts to ease tension on the Korean peninsula, said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

“Moscow wants to be in the loop concerning the latest developments, especially with respect to the likely summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un,” Lukin said.

“For its part, North Korea would like to have Russian support entering high-stakes negotiations with Washington.”

(Reporting By Rodrigo Campos and Daniel Bases in New York; Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan in Washington; Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing, and Josh Smith in Seoul.; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Explainer: The man sent by North Korean leader to U.S. for high-level talks

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Closing ceremony - Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 25, 2018 - Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, watches the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Patrick Semansky/Pool

By Doina Chiacu and Hyonhee Shin

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – When Kim Yong Chol lands in New York this week, he will become the most senior North Korean envoy to hold talks with American officials on U.S. soil in 18 years.

The former spy chief is a trusted adviser to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, playing a pivotal role in preparations for an historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a sign of his importance, Trump announced Kim Yong Chol’s New York trip on Twitter on Tuesday.

The White House said he would meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week, the most high-level contact between the two countries in the United States since Jo Myong Rok, a marshal, met President Bill Clinton in 2000.


Kim Yong Chol is a four-star general, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, and director of the United Front Department, which is responsible for inter-Korean relations.

Such positions, and his omnipresence before and during inter-Korean summits in April and on Saturday, make him one of the most powerful people in North Korea, South Korean officials say.

He has played a central role in the recent thaw in relations between the North and South Korea, as well as the United States.

Sent as Kim Jong Un’s envoy to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, Kim Yong Chol told South Korean President Moon Jae-in Pyongyang was open to talks with Washington, the first indication North Korea was changing course after months of trading threats and insults with the United States.

He and Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, were the only two officials to join the North Korean leader at the two inter-Korean summits.

He also coordinated Kim Jong Un’s two meetings with Pompeo in Pyongyang.

FILE PHOTO: Kim Yong Chol (front), vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee and formerly head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency, arrives at the international airport in Beijing, China in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 30, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Kim Yong Chol (front), vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and formerly head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency, arrives at the international airport in Beijing, China in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 30, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS


Kim Yong Chol was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency, and has spent nearly 30 years as a senior member of the intelligence community.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted him for supporting the North’s nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016, respectively. A visit to the United States would indicate a waiver was granted.

He was accused by South Korea of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. He was also linked by U.S. intelligence to a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

North Korea denied any involvement in either incident.

Kim Yong Chol “stormed out of the room” during military talks in 2014 when the South demanded an apology for the 2010 attacks, according to South Korean officials.

“He is a tough negotiator and an expert on inter-Korean talks, but it is true that he had been a symbol of hawks rather than harmony and reconciliation until this year,” said Moon Sang-gyun, a former South Korean defense official.


Kim Yong Chol served in the military police in the demilitarized zone on the border of the two Koreas. He was also a bodyguard to Kim Jong Il, the former leader and late father of Kim Jong Un, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, an affiliate of the 38 North think tank.

He has been closely linked to Kim Jong Un’s succession and has been seen flanking the leader on several public visits.

Kim Yong Chol is known to be difficult to work with, sarcastic and not sufficiently deferential to his superiors, Leadership Watch said.

He has also suffered tough times. South Korea’s intelligence agency said in 2015 Kim Yong Chol was demoted to a three-star general after dozing off during a meeting.

In 2016, Seoul’s unification ministry said he was briefly sent to a re-education camp for his “overbearing” manner and abuse of power.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Mary Milliken, Bill Trott and)