WASHINGTON – President Trump continued to tease the re-scheduling of a meeting with Kim Jong Un, tweeting on Monday that a top North Korean official is en route to New York City for meetings on the possible summit.
“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!”
Trump did not detail what he meant by “my letter;” he could have been referring to the missive he disclosed last week calling off the Kim meeting that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
Since then, Trump has said North Korea has been responsive to the point where the meeting could be re-scheduled.
In a Sunday tweet, Trump spoke of the summit in the present tense by saying that “our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself. I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”
We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2018
Our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself. I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2018
Kim Yong Chol, one of Kim Jong Un’s top lieutenants, is apparently playing a major role in rescheduling the meeting. North Korea’s former spy chief, Kim Yong Chol is now a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party.
He is among a small group of North Korean officials who have accompanied Kim Jong Un to all four of his summits with foreign leaders in recent months – twice with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also visited South Korea in February to attend the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics at the start of Kim Jong Un’s charm offensive.
Kim Yong Chol, who is about 72, is a contentious figure outside North Korea.
Before taking up the job responsible for relations with South Korea in 2016 he was a four-star army general and a military intelligence chief who is thought to have been behind a slew of provocations, including two deadly attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans and an alleged 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures. Both Seoul and Washington imposed sanctions on him in recent years.
While in the United States, South Korean media say Kim Yong Chol will likely meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, twice recently, to finalize plans for the North Korea-U.S. summit. But it’s not known what else he’ll do there. Media reports said Pompeo could make a third trip to Pyongyang after Kim’s U.S. visit.
While Kim Yong Chol’s possible trip to the United States could further brighten the prospects for the summit, history shows that things could still crumble at the last minute even after an exchange of high-level officials.
In October 2000, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the late dictator father of Kim Jong Un, sent Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok to Washington on a then-unprecedented goodwill mission. Jo, who died in 2010, remains the highest-level North Korean official to visit the United States since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Jo’s trip came as the two countries were seeking closer ties following North Korea’s first-ever summit talks with South Korea in June 2000.
During his Washington visit, Jo met then President Bill Clinton, conveyed a letter from Kim Jong Il and met Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen. Jo said that improved relations “will be good for both countries and for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region as well.”
About three weeks later, Albright made a historic reciprocal trip to Pyongyang to try to arrange a North Korea trip by Clinton. Some U.S. critics suspected Clinton was angling for a hasty foreign policy triumph in his last months in office.
During her stay in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il took Albright to one of the mass games spectacles that included a giant mosaic displaying a rocket flying into the sky. “This will be our last missile,” Kim reportedly told Albright at the time, in an apparent reference to a medium-range ballistic missile the North fired over Japan two years earlier, which stunned the region.
The warming ties between the two countries chilled after President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, taking a tough line on the North. The nuclear confrontation deepened in 2002, with the Bush administration accusing North Korea of running a clandestine uranium enrichment program in breach of a 1994 disarmament deal.
Clinton eventually visited North Korea as a former president in 2009 to secure the freedom of two detained American journalists.