The United States continues to “actively prepare” for President Donald Trump’s “expected summit” in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the White House said Tuesday amid lingering uncertainty about the meeting.
“The North Koreans have been engaging” since Trump’s letter last week cancelling the June 12 meeting, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
She gave no date for the possible summit, but said Trump was meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 7 at the White House.
Trump himself confirmed Tuesday that North Korean ex-spy chief Kim Yong Chol is heading to New York, as preparatory talks continue for what would be an unprecedented meeting.
Describing Kim as “the vice chairman of North Korea,” Trump tweeted that “meetings are currently taking place concerning summit,” referring to the meeting originally planned for Singapore on June 12.
“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea,” Trump said.
Currently a vice chairman of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim would be the most senior North Korean figure in years to make an official visit to the totalitarian state’s traditional arch-enemy.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, which first reported Kim’s trip, he arrived Tuesday in Beijing and reserved an Air China flight to New York, set to depart at 1 pm (0500 GMT) Wednesday.
Kim was expected to conduct talks with Chinese officials at Beijing airport.
Trump and Kim fixed the date of their Singapore summit in early May.
Trump called the meeting off on Thursday, citing North Korean hostility, but has indicated that preparations were still continuing.
North Korea said it was still open to talks, which, if they take place, are expected to focus on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, which the West would like to see ended but which North Korea sees as vital to its survival.
Kim Yong Chol, regarded as Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man, will meet this week in New York with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the White House said.
Kim Yong Chol is thought to have masterminded the 2010 torpedo attack on a South Korean ship in which 46 sailors died.
He was part of North Korea’s Olympic delegation in February; sat next to Kim Jong Un during his recent summits with South Korean President Moon Jae In; and met Pompeo on his visits to Pyongyang.
A delegation of US diplomats, military officials and White House staff on Sunday entered Panmunjom, the “truce village” on the Korean border, for talks with North Korean authorities, with additional meetings planned this week, the White House said.
Joe Hagin, Trump’s deputy chief of staff, was leading a US “pre-advance team” in Singapore to coordinate summit logistics.
White House national security adviser John Bolton “has had calls with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts virtually every day,” Sanders said.