A top North Korean official left for Washington on Thursday, reports said, for talks with his US counterpart ahead of an expected summit between President Donald Trump and Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim Yong Chol, Kim’s right-hand man and the counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in denuclearisation talks, was seen getting into a vehicle at Beijing airport after flying in from Pyongyang, pictures showed.
Hours later, he left the Chinese capital on a United Airlines flight which is expected to land in Washington at 6:50 pm local time, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, adding that he was accompanied by two North Korean officials.
He was expected to meet Pompeo on Friday before paying a courtesy call on Trump, it said, and appeared to be carrying another letter from his leader for the US commander in chief.
Kim’s trip comes as expectations grow for a second US-North Korean summit after Kim Jong Un last week went to Beijing, long Pyongyang’s key ally, for talks with President Xi Jinping.
The summit, which observers say will probably be held in either Vietnam or Thailand, is expected despite a lack of progress in denuclearisation negotiations.
At their first meeting in Singapore in June the two leaders signed a vaguely worded document in which Kim pledged to work towards “the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.
But progress has since stalled with the two sides disagreeing over what that means.
Pyongyang is seeking sanctions relief and rejects demands for what it calls its “unilateral” disarmament, while Washington insists that the punitive measures must stay in place until it gives up its nuclear arsenal.
Another North Korean official, Choe Son Hui, travelled through Beijing earlier this week en route to Sweden, where she could meet the US special representative on North Korea, Stephen Biegun.