Top N. Korea official in Washington for talks on new Trump-Kim summit
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A top North Korean general is in Washington Friday for a rare visit, during which he is expected to meet President Donald Trump as the two countries seek to finalize a new summit aimed at denuclearization and easing decades of hostility.
Kim Yong Chol, a right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrived Thursday evening in the US capital, the latest peace-making mission just a year after once-soaring tensions began to abate.
The North Korean negotiator abruptly canceled his last planned talks in the United States -- a meeting set two months ago in New York with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- and this time the administration has treaded cautiously, not announcing his visit in advance.
But an American source, who could not be identified as the schedule has not been announced, said that Pompeo would welcome Kim on Friday for a meal in Washington before the two are expected to head together to the White House.
Trump has repeatedly voiced eagerness to see Kim Jong Un again after their landmark June summit in Singapore, the first meeting ever between sitting leaders from the two countries that never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Trump has repeatedly hailed his diplomacy as a triumph, recently saying there would have been "a nice big fat war in Asia" if it were not for him.
He has said to expect an announcement soon about the second summit, with diplomats seeing Vietnam and Thailand as possible venues.
In a sign that frictions have eased since the official's no-show in November, Trump -- who has mused that he and Kim Jong Un are "in love" -- said he received a warm new letter from the North Korean leader earlier this month.
For Trump, the made-for-television summitry with the young and elusive North Korean leader also offers a welcome respite from news at home.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump's presidential campaign colluded with Russia, and his insistence that Congress fund a wall on the Mexican border has shuttered the US government for nearly a month.
What does 'denuclearization' mean?
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's dovish government, 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.
In Singapore, Kim promised his "unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
But the two sides appear to have different ideas on how to define that, with the United States expecting North Korea to give up nuclear weapons assembled over decades of work and Pyongyang more broadly seeking an end to what it sees as US threats.
"I think there is somewhat of a general consensus of what denuclearization means. I think there is obviously still disagreement on how to get there -- whether denuclearization is the end of the process or the process itself," said Jenny Town, managing editor of the 38 North web journal on North Korea policy at the Stimson Center.
"Realistically, they can talk about it all they want to, they can define the end goal, but if you don't have a common understanding of how to get there, you're not going to reach that common goal," she said.
She noted that Americans have traditionally preferred to hash out the details of agreements before big summits, while the type of leader-driven diplomacy favored by Trump is more common in Asia.
"People have been very skeptical of this top-down approach, but we won't know unless we try it," she said.
Pompeo in a recent interview voiced hope at reaching a deal with North Korea that would "create a much better, safer America" but cautioned that it was unlikely to be finished during the next summit.