Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, a right-hand man to the North Korean leader, met with Trump at the White House for an unusually long 90 minutes as the countries seek a denuclearization accord that could ease decades of hostility.
“The president looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, revealing that the summit would take place “near the end of February.”
The White House also said that conversations were ongoing with North Korea, and that sanctions would remain in place.
The latest flurry of diplomacy comes little more than a year after Trump was threatening to wipe North Korea off the map, with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests rattling nerves in East Asia.
Kim Jong-un and Trump held a landmark first meeting in June in Singapore, where they signed a vaguely worded document, with Kim pledging to work towards the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Trump triumphantly announced after that meeting that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat.
But progress stalled soon afterward as Pyongyang and Washington disagree over what denuclearization actually means.
Kim Yong Chol is the first North Korean dignitary in nearly two decades to spend the night in Washington, staying at a fashionable hotel a short drive from the White House.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Kim at the hotel before a morning meeting.
Pompeo, who traveled to North Korea four times last year to seek progress, later invited the visitors to lunch at their hotel after they returned from the White House.
Trump has repeatedly voiced eagerness to see Kim Jong-un again — even saying that the two are “in love” after their Singapore summit, the first meeting ever between sitting leaders from the two countries, which never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Tensions began to abate a year ago with the encouragement of South Korea’s dovish president, Moon Jae-in.
Trump has repeatedly hailed his own diplomacy as a triumph, recently saying there would have been “a nice big fat war in Asia” if it were not for his efforts.
Vietnam ready to host
Vietnam, which has good relations with both the United States and North Korea, is preparing to host the next summit. A government source told AFP that “logistical preparations” were under way, and that the summit would most likely take place in the capital Hanoi or coastal city of Danang, but that no decision had been made.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that Vietnam was ready to welcome the two leaders, noting that Hanoi has a growing relationship with the United States despite lingering memories of war.
“We don’t know the final decision. However, if it happens here, we will do our best to facilitate the meeting,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.
For Trump, the made-for-television summitry with the young and elusive North Korean leader would also offer a welcome respite from a steady barrage of negative headlines at home.
An explosive report late Thursday in BuzzFeed said that Trump ordered his lawyer to lie to Congress about a project in Russia, and Trump’s insistence that Congress fund a wall on the Mexican border has shuttered the US government for nearly a month.
For Kim, the stakes are more existential as he seeks guarantees of the survival of his regime.
Kim, backed by ally China as well as South Korea, is also hoping for an easing of international sanctions, but the United States insists on maintaining maximum pressure until Pyongyang moves forward on giving up its nuclear weapons.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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