The talks between Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol are aimed at salvaging the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that is scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that North Korea is "contemplating a strategic shift" and that talks to prepare a summit on its denuclearisation are making progress.
Pompeo said he had made "real progress" in New York talks with Kim Jong-un's right-hand man Kim Yong-chol towards the goal of holding a June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
"Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol is now planning to travel to Washington to deliver a personal letter from Chairman Kim Jong-un," he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea's former military intelligence chief opened the high-stakes talks in New York on Thursday to try to salvage an on-again, off-again summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Trump told reporters the talks were going well and that North Korean officials may come to Washington on Friday with a letter from Kim.
TRT World 's Nick Harper reports from New York.
Pompeo met with Kim Yong-chol, one of the North Korean leader's closest aides, at the apartment residence of the US deputy ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Kim is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the US in 18 years. He and Pompeo had discussions over a dinner of steak, corn and cheese on Wednesday, Pompeo said in a tweet.
The US secretary of state, who spoke with Trump on Wednesday night and with National Security Adviser John Bolton early Thursday, was accompanied by Andrew Kim, the head of a CIA unit assigned to work on North Korea, and Mark Lambert, the head of the State Department's Korea desk. It was not immediately clear who accompanied Kim Yong-chol on the North Korean side.
"We are doing very well with North Korea," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews before departing on a trip to Texas. "Our secretary of state is having very good meetings. I believe they will be coming down to Washington on Friday. A letter [is] being delivered to me from Kim Jong-un. It is very important to them."
"I think it will be very positive. We will see what happens. It is all a process. Hopefully we will have a meeting on the 12th [of June]," Trump said, adding there may be multiple meetings but "maybe we'll have none."
Pompeo's talks with Kim Yong-chol, the most critical of three tracks of negotiations currently taking place between the two governments in the US, in the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone, and in Singapore, are aimed at determining whether a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, originally scheduled for June 12, but later cancelled by Trump, can be restored.
"The potential summit between @POTUS and Chairman Kim presents #DPRK with a great opportunity to achieve security and economic prosperity," Pompeo tweeted shortly before Thursday's meeting began. "The people of #NorthKorea can have a brighter future and the world can be more peaceful."
Meanwhile in Pyongyang
Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and invited him to visit.
Lavrov's visit to the secretive state was the first since 2009.
Russia has appeared to be on the fringes of a flurry of diplomacy as Pyongyang and Washington edge towards talks aimed at ending years of tension over North Korea's nuclear programme.
"Come to Russia. We would be very happy to see you," Lavrov, seated across a table from Kim, said during a televised meeting.
He expressed Moscow's support for a declaration last month in which North and South Korea agreed to work for the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
He said Moscow hoped all sides would take a measured approach to possible forthcoming talks on a nuclear settlement.
"This will allow for the realisation not only of the denuclearisation of the whole Korean peninsula but also to provide sustainable peace and stability across northeast Asia," Lavrov was quoted as saying by his ministry.
TRT World 's Oliver Whitfield Miocic has been following Lavrov's visit to Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-un complained to Lavrov about "US hegemonism," a comment that may complicate the discussions in New York.
"As we move to adjust to the political situation in the face of US hegemonism, I am willing to exchange detailed and in-depth opinions with your leadership and hope to do so moving forward," Kim told Lavrov.
North Korea's flurry of diplomatic activity following a torrid run in nuclear weapons and missile tests in 2017 suggests that Kim is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there are lingering doubts on whether he will ever fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival in a region surrounded by enemies.
The US side is pressing its demand for "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation."
A senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday that for a summit to take place, North Korea will have to make clear "what they're willing to do" in terms of commitments and action. The US is willing to provide the North Koreans security guarantees and help them achieve economic prosperity if they denuclearise, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Pompeo, Trump's former CIA chief, has travelled to Pyongyang twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong-un. Trump views a summit as a legacy-defining opportunity to make the nuclear deal, but he has left the world guessing since cancelling the meeting last week in an open letter to Kim that complained of the North's "tremendous anger and open hostility." North Korea's conciliatory response to that letter appears to have put the summit back on track.
Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee, was allowed into the United States despite being on a US sanctions list, but the State Department has said he would likely need additional approval to travel outside the New York area.
In 2000, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok visited Washington and met president Bill Clinton at the White House amid warming ties between the 1950s wartime foes. Relations turned sour again after George W Bush took office in early 2001, with a tough policy on the North.
The White House emphasised that it has remained in close contact with South Korean and Japanese officials as preparations for the talks continue.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 7. Trump hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week.
Moon, who has lobbied hard for nuclear negotiations between Trump and Kim Jong-un, held a surprise meeting with the North Korean leader on Saturday in an effort to keep the summit alive.