North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator will arrive in Washington later this week for a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a South Korean newspaper and other media outlets reported on Wednesday.
The State Department would not confirm the meeting on Wednesday. But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unnamed diplomatic source, reported senior North Korean and U.S. officials were likely to meet this week. And CNN reported that Kim Yong Chol, a high-level North Korean official, would arrive soon in the United States and was expected to meet with Pompeo and Stephen Biegun, the State Department’s Special Representative for North Korea.
The rare visit by Kim Yong Chol to Washington could signal progress in arranging a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, experts said.
“We’re obviously moving toward a second summit,” said Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington foreign policy think tank.
The two world leaders first met last year in Singapore, where they signed a vaguely worded agreement promising to work toward full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Trump and Kim Jong Un have both expressed a desire to hold a second summit, even though foreign policy experts note that Kim Jong Un has taken no affirmative steps toward relinquishing his nuclear arsenal since the Singapore meeting.
Vice President Mike Pence highlighted that lack of progress in a speech on Wednesday to U.S. ambassadors gathered in Washington for a conference.
“While the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” Pence told the assembled diplomats.
Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, said Trump will be “coaxed into making more concessions” at a second summit.
“All for illusory stunts like being presented with (a) fake weapons inventory list or shutting down an exhausted test site, factory, or reactor, while uranium enrichment and missile production roll on elsewhere,” Lee said.
Trump has stressed that North Korea has not conducted any rocket launches in recent months. He praised the “very good dialogue” with the North Koreans and said the negotiations had avoided a “big fat war” with the nuclear-armed nation.
But Trump has resisted entreaties from the North Koreans to lift economic sanctions on the regime. Those will “remain in full force,” Trump told reporters earlier this year, “until we have some very positive proof” of denuclearization.
That is a major flashpoint for Kim Jong Un’s regime. In a televised New Year’s Day address, he said he was ready to meet again with Trump “anytime” but delivered a warning not to test North Korea’s patience over sanctions, threatening that it may have to find a “new way” to defend its interests.
Still, the two sides have been negotiating details of a possible second summit for weeks, including the agenda and the location of the meeting.
Terry, the CSIS expert, said Trump should hold out on a second summit until the U.S. at least gets a full inventory of the North Koreans nuclear cache.
“It cannot be a repeat of Singapore because that produced … just an aspirational statement,” she said.
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