NEW YORK (Reuters) – A senior North Korean official made a rare visit to the United States on Wednesday for talks about a possible summit between the leaders of the two countries but the sides appeared far apart on the central issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on a flight from Beijing. He was later seen entering a hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Kim Yong Chol is due to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss whether to go ahead with an unprecedented meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim.
The summit, originally planned for June 12 in Singapore, has been cast in doubt as the two countries – which have technically been at war since the 1950s – test each other’s diplomatic mettle.
Trump last week called off the summit after North Korea expressed anger at comments by U.S. officials. But Trump later said he was reconsidering his position and U.S., North Korean and South Korean officials have gone ahead with summit preparations anyway.
The White House said on Wednesday that negotiations at the demilitarized zone along the border between North and South Korea for the summit were going well and that it expects the historic meeting to take place on June 12.
A U.S. official said negotiations about the summit’s agenda have so far been slow going, and the two fundamental issues, the definition of North Korean denuclearization and whether both sides would take actions at the same time or separately, remained unsettled.
Trump has sworn not to allow North Korea to develop nuclear missiles that could hit the United States and wants North Korea to “denuclearize,” or 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.
Reporting by Rodrigo Campos and Jonathan Allen in New york; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; editing by Grant McCool; Editing by Mary Milliken