Sanctioned by US, General Kim Yong-chol will hold talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as preparations are underway for a historic nuclear summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) will meet in New York this week General Kim Yong-chol amid intensifying US-North Korean summit preparations, the White House says.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) will meet in New York this week General Kim Yong-chol amid intensifying US-North Korean summit preparations, the White House says. (AFP)

A top North Korean official headed to New York on Wednesday for talks aimed at salvaging a summit between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump on the future of Kim's nuclear programme, in the North's highest-level mission to the United States in 18 years.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited diplomatic sources as saying that General Kim Yong-chol was on an Air China flight flying from Beijing's airport to New York that departed on Wednesday afternoon.

It said General Kim, who had arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, was travelling with five other North Korean officials to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

Kim, one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's most trusted aides, is a former military intelligence chief and now a vice chairman of the ruling party's central committee.

Trump-Kim summit

US President Donald Trump had been scheduled to meet Kim in Singapore on June 12, but the meeting was thrown into doubt after the US leader said he was cancelling it. Since then, meeting to prepare for the talks have resumed. 

Pompeo's spokeswoman said it would be the third meeting between Pompeo – who opened contacts with the isolated Pyongyang when he was still CIA director – and General Kim.

Officials wouldn't say that the June 12 Singapore summit was back on, but preparations on both sides of the Pacific proceeded as if it were. 

Two weeks of hard-nosed negotiating, including a communications blackout by the North and a public cancellation by the US, appeared to be paying off as the two sides engaged in their most substantive talks to date about the meeting. 

"We're still finalising exactly what these meetings will look like," she said.

Trump tweets general's visit

Trump confirmed the general was on his way in a tweet and boasted that Washington would have a "great team" for the talks on resolving the old foes' nuclear standoff. 

The president still hopes the meeting will take place on June 12 in Singapore.

Chung Sung-yoon, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said Kim Yong-chol would be the most senior North Korean on US soil since Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok met then-president Bill Clinton in 2000.

The general has played a front-seat role during recent rounds of diplomacy aimed at ending the nuclear stalemate on the Korean peninsula.

He sat next to Trump's daughter Ivanka, who is also a White House aide, during February's closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, an event that was seen as a turning point in the nuclear crisis.

General still under US sanctions

But General Kim is one of several North Korean officials under US sanctions, but State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was sure that the US had taken appropriate administrative steps to allow him to visit New York unmolested.

His journey to the US caps a frenetic few days of meetings between North Korean and American officials.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies