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North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol in US for meeting with Mike Pompeo

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The North Korean leader’s right-hand man Kim Yong-chol met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a steak dinner at a Manhattan apartment to discuss plans for a historic summit planned for next month.

Two more meetings between Kim – North Korea’s former spy chief – and Pompeo – the ex-head of the CIA – take place on Thursday.

Leader Kim Jong-un’s top envoy touched down on Wednesday in New York City. The 72-year-old is known as one of the most powerful people within North Korea. He played a central role in a recent summit between Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in.

The series of meetings come ahead of a highly anticipated summit scheduled for June 12 in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Russia’s role

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, for talks on Thursday.

Lavrov will meet his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho to discuss “the situation around the Korean Peninsula and other key international and regional issues”, a statement issued by the Russian foreign ministry said.

Ri invited Lavrov to visit Pyongyang during his visit to Moscow in April.

“I received an invitation and was glad to accept it. It will be useful for me to understand our North Korean neighbours’ attitude to all the issues,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency TASS.

Last Thursday, Trump cancelled the landmark summit in a letter to Kim citing “anger and open hostility” on the part of Pyongyang. But a day later, he said the meeting might still go ahead.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Kim’s trip to the US was a “solid response” to his letter.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday “we are preparing and expect [the summit] to take place on June 12”.

Reporting from New York City, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said there is still a “substantial gap” between US and North Korean positions on the issue of denuclearisation.

“That’s one of the main sticking points that’s going to have to be worked out when Pompeo comes here in New York,” Bays said.

Kim’s trip is part of a flurry of diplomacy before the on-again, off-again summit.

On Sunday, US negotiators, headed by Washington’s ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, began meeting North Korean counterparts in the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas. A team of US officials was also in Singapore for preparations.

[SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies]
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