North Korea’s former spymaster Kim Yong-chol and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in New York on Wednesday as the two countries continued to engage in multi-channel dialogues across continents to arrange a summit meeting.
In addition to the New York meeting, US and North Korean officials have been in talks in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, and in Singapore for the possible summit between their leaders on June 12.
This handout photograph obtained courtesy of the US Department of State shows Kim Yong-chol (L), Vice Chairman of North Korea, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) on May 30, 2018 in New York. The North Korean senior official arrived in New York earlier on May 30, 2018 for talks on salvaging a summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)
Kim, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and director of the committee’s United Front Department, attended a dinner with Pompeo for 90 minutes at the Manhattan residence of the US deputy representative to the United Nations.
Kim is the most senior North Korean official to visit the US in almost two decades.
The meeting was closed to the press, but Pompeo tweeted “Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu,” indicating it was carried out in an amicable atmosphere. Photos accompanying the tweet showed Kim and Pompeo smiling and toasting at the dinner table.
Andrew Kim, the head of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, who had accompanied Pompeo on his second trip to Pyongyang in early May, could also be seen in the photos.
The specifics of the meeting have been withheld, but White House officials have noted denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as the main focus of the meeting. Prior to the meeting, Pompeo had reiterated the US’ commitment to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula via Twitter.
Analysts saw Thursday’s meeting as a move to check whether the two sides shared common ground on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees for the North’s regime.
Both sides have been struggling to close the gap in their positions on denuclearization. The US has been calling for a verifiable and swift “all-in-one” approach, while the North has been demanding a “staged and simultaneous” approach.
“The meeting between Kim and Pompeo is a sign that both countries have reached the stage of cross-checking and discussing ways to implement agreements reached in a basic frame,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.
“It can be seen as one of the final stages in the process of drawing up the final agreement on denuclearization as a reasonable draft needs to be drawn up before the possible summit. But the most sensitive clauses are expected to be left out for President Trump to decide on,” added Koh, who was a member of the South Korean advisory committee for the inter-Korean summit in April.
Pompeo and his counterpart Kim will have a full day of meetings Thursday, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. Pompeo is also scheduled to hold a press conference after that, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.
The meeting comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity as the two countries look to revive the prospects of the summit after US President Donald Trump abruptly canceled the scheduled meeting last week, citing the North’s open hostility. But he left the door open at the same time, and the North expressed willingness to talk despite the cancellation.
Citing a source familiar with US-North Korea relations, CNN reported Thursday that a US delegation negotiating in Panmunjeom, led by US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, has extended its stay in South Korea “for at least another day.”
The delegation have been holding talks with a North Korean team headed by Pyongyang’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, to discuss the summit agenda. The two sides first held secret talks on Sunday and again on Wednesday.
In Singapore, the two sides have been discussing security and logistical issues through a separate track.
The North Korean media was yet to report on any of the meetings as of Thursday.
Kim Yong-chol is the highest-ranking North Korean to visit the US since Jo Myong-rok, a North Korean vice-marshal who met US President Bill Clinton in 2000. The hard-line general, who previously served as the North’s spy chief, is under the US Treasury sanctions as he is suspected of having masterminded the attack on a South Korean Navy vessel in 2010 and having played a key role in Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
He was likely granted a temporary sanctions waiver to travel to New York, and further approval would be required if he wishes to travel to Washington. By Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com