By Alisha Haridasani
A rare visit to the United States by a senior North Korean general may lay the groundwork for a renewed summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, a North Korea analyst said.
“It looks like the summit is going to go ahead,” said Martyn Williams, a journalist at IDG News Service. “Whether it happens on June 12 is going to be a logistical question.”
Trump said in a tweet Tuesday that the general, Kim Yong-chol, was headed to New York for meetings “concerning Summit, and more.” The general would be the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the U.S. in almost two decades.
He was expected to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he arrives later this week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary said on Tuesday. The two men have met twice before in Pyongyang.
“The direct contact is very important," Williams said in an interview Tuesday with Cheddar. "It not just shows a sense of willingness on both sides to directly engage and directly talk about things, but it also allows the U.S. and North Korea to get a better feel for each other.”
The White House was taking its own steps to move negotiations for the summit forward. Trump administration officials were coordinating with their North Korean counterparts in Singapore, and in the demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from South Korean, Sanders said.
Trump will also meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan next month to “continue close coordination” with an essential American ally in the region.
General Kim is often referred to as the North Korean leader's right-hand man. “In fact, quite literally we’ve seen this year, in many of the meetings that Kim Jong-un has done, he has been sitting right to his right-hand side,” said Williams.
The general was at Kim Jong-un’s meetings with President Xi Jinping of China and meetings with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. General Kim used to lead North Korea’s intelligence service, which has been linked to the 2104 cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
“This is a man on the U.S. sanctions list,” said Williams. “Technically, he’s not allowed in the U.S.”
General Kim was put on a Department of Treasury sanctions list in 2010 and again in 2015, and is barred from entering the United States. He was in Beijing on Tuesday, likely waiting for a waiver and to confer with North Korea's Chinese allies.
The visit of a top North Korean general would be an undeniable sign that tensions between Washington and Pyongyang may have eased since last Thursday when Trump canceled the summit in Singapore. After the president's letter canceling the meeting, Kim Jong-un responded with an olive branch, saying he was willing to meet “at any time.”
For the full interview, click here.