A man reads a copy of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper featuring U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the front page in Seoul. (Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg)

Trump Says Kim Sending Right-Hand Man to U.S. for Summit Talks

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dispatched one of his top aides to New York for talks ahead of his planned summit with Donald Trump next month, the U.S. president said on Twitter.

"Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more," Trump said in a Twitter posting that misspelled the envoy’s name. "Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!"

Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s former spy chief, would become the highest-ranking official from the isolated nation to visit the U.S. since 2000, when Pyongyang sent Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok to meet then-President Bill Clinton. Yonhap News Agency reported Kim Yong Chol will meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with whom he dined in Pyongyang earlier this month.

The veteran official’s trip is another sign that preparations for the on-again, off-again June 12 meeting in Singapore are moving forward. Just three days after Trump abruptly called off the unprecedented meeting in a letter to the North Korean leader, the president appeared to confirm the talks were back on.

Kim Yong Chol accompanied Kim Jong Un at all of his recent meetings with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according to North Korean state-media reports. South Korea said Tuesday it wasn’t aware of the trip by Kim Yong Chol, who is vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee. He’s set to land in New York on Wednesday on a flight from Beijing, Yonhap said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that she has no information on Kim Yong Chol’s visit.

‘Brilliant Potential’

“I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”

A delegation led by Sung Kim, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, is currently holding meetings with North Korean officials at the border village of Panmunjom. Kim Chang Son, another aide to the North Korean leader, arrived in Singapore late Monday to discuss logistics and security arrangements for the planned summit, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.

The U.S. and North Korea are seeking common ground on the steps it would take for Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons. The Trump administration has pushed for a quick timeline, while North Korea favors a phased approach.

Surprise Meeting

The U.S. has decided to hold off on implementing major new sanctions on North Korea while attempts to revive the summit are underway, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The White House was preparing to announce a ramped-up sanctions regime as soon as Tuesday, but decided on Monday to indefinitely delay the measures while talks are ongoing, according to a U.S. official the newspaper didn’t name.

South Korea’s Moon held a surprise two-hour meeting Saturday with Kim Jong Un on the border in a bid to keep the Trump summit on track. Moon said on Sunday that Kim requested the meeting, only the fourth ever by leaders of the two countries since the Korean War.

Moon could travel to Singapore for a three-way summit with Kim and Trump next month, Yonhap reported Monday. The South Korean presidential office said later in a text message that Seoul is “just considering the possibility” of such a meeting and “at a working level.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.