US secretary of state hosts dinner for top North Korean general as both sides race towards summit
Top officials from the US and North Korea are to hold a "day full of meetings" in New York on Thursday as both sides race to get plans for a leaders' summit in Singapore back on track.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo hosted dinner on Wednesday night with General Kim Yong Chol, one of Kim Jong-un's closest aides and the most senior North Korean official to visit the US in 20 years.
Pictures released from the dinner showed them sat in an apartment not far from the UN headquarters. Afterwards, Mr Pompeo tweeted: "Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu."
Mr Pompeo has himself travelled to Pyongyang twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong-un, and has said there is a "shared understanding" between the two sides about what they hope to achieve in talks.
The White House has said it expects a historic summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader to take place as planned. âWeâre continuing to prepare for the meeting between the president and the North Korean leaderâ, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
The summit still hangs in the balance, with Mr Trump having issued a letter last week pulling out of the summit before the latest flurry of diplomacy aimed at salvaging the talks.
âWe are preparing and expect that to take place on June 12, and we will be ready if it does on June 12, and if not, then we will be ready if it takes place on July 12â, Ms Sanders said.
After Mr Trump abruptly called off the summit last week and lambasted North Korea for displaying âtremendous anger and open hostilityâ towards the US, the White House has been striving to reinstate the meeting, including by dispatching an array of officials to Asia.
A delegation of US diplomatic officials travelled to meet with North Korean counterparts in the demilitarised zone separating the north from South Korea, and a team headed to Singapore to meet with North Korean officials and continue laying the groundwork for a potential meeting there.
North Koreans breakout to Seoul
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North Koreans breakout to Seoul
A hat belonging to Jeong Min-woo is seen in Seoul, South Korea, August 9, 2017. Min-woo is from Hyesan, on the border with China. He was a commissioned officer in the Korean People's Army, and left in his uniform. South Korean intelligence confiscated it, but he persuaded his North Korean military contacts to send him a new one.
Jeong Min-woo, 29, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea.
Kang, 28, who wanted to be identified only by her surname, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea.
A dog fur coat belonging to Kang, who wanted to be identified only by her surname, is seen in Seoul, South Korea.
Lee Oui-ryuk, 29, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, September 12, 2017. Oui-ryuk is from Onsong, near the border with China. He defected in 2010, and brought his ID card with him.
Photographs and North Korean identification card of Lee Oui-ryuk are seen in Seoul, South Korea.
Song Byeok, 48, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, September 27, 2017. Byeok was a propaganda artist. His father drowned trying to cross the Tumen river, in 2000. When the artist finally left North Korea in 2001, he brought photos of his family with him.
A family photograph of Song Byeok is seen in Seoul, South Korea.
Lee Min-bok, 60, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, September 14, 2017. Min-bok was a researcher at North Korea's Academy of Agricultural Science. He first tried to defect, unsuccessfully, in 1990. He eventually left North Korea in June 1991 and came to South Korea in 1995. His family sent him these diaries.
Diaries written by Lee Min-bok are seen in Pocheon, South Korea.
Ji Sung-ho, 35, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, August 13, 2017. Sung-ho is from Hoeryong, near the border with China. He left North Korea in 2006 with a pair of wooden crutches.
Baek Hwa-sung, 33, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, September 30, 2017. Hwa-sung left Sinuiju, on the border with China, in 2003 and resettled in South K orea in 2008. He kept a diary as he defected.
Diaries written by Baek Hwa-sung are seen in Seoul, South Korea.
Kim Ryen Hui, 48, is reflected on a window as she poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, November 14, 2017. Ryon Hui is from Pyongyang.
A photo of Kim Ryen Hui's daughter is seen in Seoul, South Korea.
One of those meetings in Singapore was said to have taken place on Wednes day, aimed at dealing with the logistics.
In announcing the various diplomatic moves, the White House said earlier this week that North Korea had âbeen engagingâ since Mr Trumpâs open letter cancelling the meeting.
âSo far the readout from these meetings has been positiveâ, Ms Sanders told reporters.Top North Korea official arrives in Beijing ahead of Trump-Kim summit in Singapore
In another sign of cascading diplomatic activity, Russia announced that its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov planned to visit North Korea on Thursday to meet with the countryâs foreign policy chief, Ri Yong-ho.
Much rides on the outcome of the negotiations. After months of North Korean weapons tests and belligerent statements spiked fears of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula, Pyongyangâs shift to diplomacy this winter afforded the Trump administration a chance to push North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programme lon g regarded as one of the worldâs leading threats.
Americaâs outgoing head of Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, underscored the peril in a speech marking his departure.
âNorth Korea remains our most imminent threat. And a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable,â Adm Harris said in Hawaii.
However, it is clear that work still needs to be done. South KoreaâÂs Yonhap news agency quoted Seoulâs Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon as saying in a speech on Wednesday that the differences between North Korea and the United States on the denuclearisation issue remained âÂÂquite significantâÂÂ and it would not be easy to narrow the gap. But, Mr Cho said that engagement between the countries as seen recently suggested that the âchances are high that common ground can be found.â
All along, the Trump administration has said it would be willing to walk away from a pact that falls shor t of total, verifiable denuclearisation. Officials have paired diplomatic efforts with a âmaximum pressureâ campaign of comprehensive sanctions intended to stifle North Koreaâs economy and force the country to negotiate.
While Pyongyang initially committed to total denuclearisation and said it would not demand the withdrawal of US troops whose presence on the Korean Peninsula has long angered North Korea, the regime hardened its stance as planned talks drew nearer.
In a statement earlier this month, Pyongyang threatened to walk away if pressured to unilaterally abandon its nuclear programme. A follow-up statement blasted vice president Mike Pence as a âpolitical dummyâ, drawing Mr Trumpâs ire.
Once the talks were called off, Pyongyang released a statement that criticised the decision but praised Mr Trumpâs willingness to negotiate and signalled a continued desire to meet.
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