By Matt Spetalnick and Joyce Lee
WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean envoy was headed for Washington on Thursday for expected talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a possible encounter with President Donald Trump to lay the groundwork for a second U.S.-North Korea summit, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyang’s lead negotiator in denuclearization talks with the United States, was due to meet Pompeo on Friday, the source said, the first major sign of potential movement in a diplomatic effort that had appeared stalled for months.
The North Korean visit could yield an announcement of plans for another summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who held a first meeting in June in Singapore, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
There has been no indication, however, 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.
Kim Yong Chol boarded a flight in Beijing for Washington on Thursday and was expected to arrive in the U.S. capital in the early evening, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said earlier.
Pompeo had planned to meet his North Korean counterpart to discuss a second summit last November, but the meeting was postponed at the last moment.
Kim Yong Chol was last in Washington in June, when he delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump that opened the way for the June 12 Singapore summit.
Trump, who has been keen to hold a second summit despite a lack of obvious progress, could meet again with the North Korean envoy. While such an encounter was being discussed, it has not yet been confirmed, the person familiar with the matter said.
“We have no meetings to announce at this time,” a State Department spokesman said when asked about the expected North Korean visit.
On Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged that efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal had not made headway.
“While the president is promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” Pence said in an address to U.S. ambassadors and other senior American diplomats at the State Department.
CNN quoted a source familiar with the U.S.-North Korea talks as saying that Kim Yong Chol would be carrying a new letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump.
Chinese and South Korean envoys on Korean peninsula affairs met in Seoul on Thursday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said. Kong Xuanyou and Lee Do-Hoon were expected to have discussed ways to achieve denuclearization.
In Singapore last year, Kim Jong Un pledged in broad terms to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but he has resisted any tangible moves in that direction.
Diplomatic contact was resumed after the North Korean leader delivered a New Year speech in which he said he was willing to meet Trump “at any time,” South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, told reporters last week.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Phil Berlowitz)