A high-ranking North Korean official met the top US diplomat on Thursday in New York to discuss nuclear arms disagreements, and is expected to visit Washington this week to hand President Donald Trump a letter from North Korea's leader.
As the two sides talked in hopes of salvaging a historic summit originally set for next month, Trump said he was expecting the North Koreans to travel to Washington on Friday to deliver a letter to him from leader Kim Jong Un.
‘I look forward to seeing what's in the letter,’ Trump said as he left Joint Base Andrews for a trip to Houston. Asked if a deal was taking shape, he said: ‘I think it will be very positive ... The meetings have been very positive.’
Trump said he was hopeful his unprecedented meeting with Kim, who exchanged insults and violent rhetoric with the US president before they began talking of a summit, would take place on June 12 as scheduled but left open the possibility talks would fall through.
‘I want it to be meaningful,’ he said. ‘It doesn't mean it gets all done at one meeting. Maybe you have to have a second or a third. And maybe we'll have none.
‘But, it's in good hands. That I can tell you.’
Disputes between Washington and Pyongyang led Trump to announce last Thursday he was canceling the meeting with Kim due to take place in Singapore, only to say the following day that it could still go ahead. The days since have seen a flurry of diplomatic efforts to get the summit back on track.
The North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a second day of talks in New York on Thursday. They shook hands at the start of their latest meeting at a condominium overlooking the East River.
Four officials from both sides sat across each other around a table in a room with a bay window that offered spectacular views of Manhattan and the UN headquarters.
Kim Yong Chol is a close aide of leader Kim Jong Un and is vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee.
If the North Korean delegation goes to the White House, it would be the first visit there by high-level Pyongyang officials since 2000 when senior figure Jo Myong Rok met President Bill Clinton.
Pompeo and envoy Kim held a 90-minute dinner at a New York apartment on Wednesday night without providing details to the media about their conversation.
North Korea has made advances in missile technology in recent years but Trump has sworn not to allow it to develop nuclear missiles that could hit the United States.
He wants North Korea to ‘denuclearize,’ meaning to get rid of its nuclear arms, but the leadership in Pyongyang is believed to regard nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival and has rejected unilaterally disarming.
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.
Pompeo said on Twitter on Thursday that a summit would present North Korea ‘a great opportunity to achieve security and economic prosperity.’
‘The people of North Korea can have a brighter future and the world can be more peaceful,’ he said.
In Pyongyang, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov invited Kim Jong Un 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 US 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 Jong 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.’
North and South Korea 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,’ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
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