North Korea’s top nuclear weapons negotiator was headed for New York on Tuesday and plans to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as officials race to settle on an agenda for the proposed June 12 summit meeting between Kim Jong-un and Trump in Singapore. The visit by Kim Yong-chol — who has served the three leaders of the Kim dynasty that has ruled the North since 1945 — signaled that negotiations were reaching a critical point. Mr. Kim met with the Chinese before going on to New York. His stop in Beijing could also be related to his presence on a sanctions list that bars him from entering the United States, as Kim would need a waiver enter the United States. Mr. Kim has served as a senior manager of the North’s intelligence operations for nearly 30 years and is considered one of the most powerful figures in North Korea.
Kim Yong-chol has already met Mr. Pompeo twice in Pyongyang. On the second visit, Mr. Pompeo expected to come away with a set of details for the Singapore summit meeting relating to the denuclearization of the North, but failed to do so. In the most recent meeting between the two, Kim said North Korea’s willingness to enter into talks was “not a result of sanctions that have been imposed from the outside,” and reminded the visiting Americans that North Korea intended to focus “all efforts into economic progress in our country.”
The meeting in Singapore is an on-again, off-again summit. In March, Mr. Trump accepted Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet, but last Thursday in a letter to the North Korean leader, Mr. Trump abruptly canceled the meeting, then changed course again on Friday, saying that the meeting might take place as scheduled. Officials from the United States and North Korea have since started a whirlwind of working-level diplomacy to try to narrow a gap over how to denuclearize the North and salvage the planned meeting.
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