Trump Meets North Korean Official Amid Rising Summit Speculation

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is meeting North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol at the White House in the strongest sign yet that a second meeting between the president and Kim Jong Un may take place soon.

Trump and Kim Yong Chol “will discuss relations between the two countries and continued progress on North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearization,” according to a statement Friday from Sarah Sanders. The North Korean official arrived at the White House after meeting with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo earlier in the day for less than an hour at a Washington hotel.

“Secretary Pompeo and Special Representative Steve Biegun had a good discussion this morning with DPRK Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol on efforts to make progress on the commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement, using an acronym for North Korea.

Trump has long signaled his interest in a second meeting with Kim and there has been speculation a summit could take place in Vietnam. U.S. officials met their North Korean counterparts in Hanoi for discussions to adjust scheduling for the talks, the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported.

Vietnam is a long-standing ally of Pyongyang that has good relations with Washington. Speculation about the country’s prospects as a summit site grew following North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s visit there from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

Hanoi -- about a four-hour direct flight from Pyongyang and in airspace over countries friendly to North Korea -- boasts several top-class hotels. Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party also has the security apparatus to squelch protests and keep curious onlookers far away from Trump and Kim.

A key question for Trump if there is a summit is what he’s willing to give up -- and whether he can get enough to justify the cost. In the seven months since Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim’s regime has made no commitments to let North Korea’s arsenal be inspected or dismantled.

Vice President Mike Pence told NBC News that the U.S. would seek a “verifiable plan” to declare North Korea’s nuclear sites and weapons stockpiles as the result of a second summit, not before it, as officials had earlier insisted. And South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Wednesday that the country was discussing “corresponding measures” with the U.S. to reward North Korea’s steps toward denuclearization.

Biegun, the U.S.’s envoy to North Korea talks, said in December that the administration was considering looser restrictions on getting humanitarian aid and workers into the country.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.