Confidante of North Korean leader to deliver letter to Trump

Mike Pompeo is ‘confident we are moving in the right direction’ on summit

North Korea’s   Kim Yong-chol (right) meeting with US  secretary of state Mike Pompeo  in New York. Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol (right) meeting with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in New York. Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images

 

Kim Jong-chul, a close confidante of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, will travel to Washington on Friday to personally deliver a letter from the North Korean leader to President Donald Trump as negotiations over a possible summit between the two countries continue.

Speaking at the end of two days of meetings with the senior North Korean official in New York, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said he was “confident we’re moving in the right direction”.

“Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste,” he said.

However, he said he did not know if the summit would definitively take place. Asked at a press conference if the public would know by the end of the week if the meeting will go ahead, he replied: “Don’t know”, though he added that “real progress” had been made in the previous 72 hours.

“It will take bold leadership from Chairman Kim Jong-un if we are able to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world,” he said.

“President Trump and I believe Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kinds of decisions. And that in the coming weeks and months we will have the opportunity to test whether or not this is the case.”

New York dinner

Mr Pompeo met with Mr Kim on Wednesday night for dinner in New York, before recommencing talks on Thursday. Thursday’s meeting finished two hours earlier than expected.

“This is going to be a process that will take days and weeks to work our way through,” Mr Pompeo said, stressing the challenges that still remained. “There will be tough points. There will be difficult times.”

While there was still uncertainty about whether the summit would go ahead, the visit by Mr Kim to Washington is a hugely symbolic move. Technically North Koreans are not permitted to travel outside a 25-mile radius of UN headquarters in New York where they have a representation.

A former spy, Mr Kim was personally put on the North Korean sanctions list by the United States. He has also been accused by South Korea of masterminding a deadly attack on a South Korean ship that left 46 people dead.

Earlier in the day as he departed for a supporters’ event in Texas, Mr Trump suggested that more than one meeting with North Korea may be required for a breakthrough.

While expressing hope that the summit would take place on June 12th, he added: “I want it to be meaningful. [It] doesn’t mean it gets all done in one meeting. Maybe we have to have a second meeting, maybe we’ll have none. But it’s in good hands, that I can tell you.”

One meeting

In further comments to Reuters aboard Air Force One, he said he would “like to see it done in one meeting”, but added “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.”

Thursday’s meeting in New York took place as multiple diplomatic initiatives continued elsewhere, with US delegations meeting on the North Korean side of the demilitarised zone and in Singapore.

In addition, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov held his first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. He suggested that economic sanctions on North Korea should be lifted before denuclearisation – a key sticking point for the Americans who believe that economic relief should be conditional on moves to denuclearise.

China, which is taking a keen interest in the unfolding negotiations, said it supported the “emerging good faith” between the US and North Korea, according to a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry.