- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
- President Donald Trump’s letter to Kim Jong Un canceling the two leaders’ planned summit on North Korean denuclearization whipped the region into a flurry of activity.
- Trump cited North Korean hostility as his reason for pulling the plug on the meeting.
- After that, Kim was notably calm in a meeting with the president of South Korea.
- Now a high-level but infamous North Korean official is headed to the US, marking a real test of the nascent diplomatic bridge between the two countries.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised the “solid response” to a letter he set North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in which he canceled a planned summit between the two leaders.
After Trump sent the letter on Thursday, many of Asia’s top negotiators spent the weekend in a flurry of diplomatic activity with the goal of saving the summit, which had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “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!”
When Trump called off the summit, citing North Korean anger and hostility, it came as a shock to US allies and journalists alike.
Two days later, Kim had a surprise meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an attempt to get the summit back on track.
In talking to South Korea, North Korea seemed to put aside its anger and recent hostility, agreeing to attend meetings with Seoul it had canceled in protest of US-South Korean military exercises. It also reaffirmed its aim for denuclearization.
Notably present at the meeting was Kim Yong Chol, a high-ranking official with ties to North Korea’s spy service.
Kim Yong Chol has been singled out for sanctions by the US. He is accused of masterminding an attack on a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 people and of involvement in the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
If Kim Yong Chol arrives in New York, it will represent the highest-level North Korean to visit the US since 2000, NK News reported.
It would also give Trump a chance to hear from a North Korean official without South Korean figures mediating the message.
“At best, this will give US officials a better understanding of North Korea’s position and steer the summit in a more realistic direction,” a former State Department Korea Desk officer, Mintaro Oba, told NK News. “At worst, tense meetings will cloud or poison the atmosphere, calling the summit into question once again. It’s hard to tell which direction is more plausible right now.
“We can also probably expect that some in Washington may raise concerns about the optics of meeting with an official with Kim Yong Chol’s past of provocations.”
But Trump’s team, previously thought to be unprepared for the summit, also saw a big change over the weekend.
The US ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, traveled to North Korea for talks over the weekend. He took part in denuclearization talks with North Korea a decade ago and is highly regarded in that capacity.
With the summit’s originally scheduled date now less than two weeks away, Trump’s letter to Kim has whipped the region into a flurry of activity that appears for now to have saved diplomacy.