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N Korea at crossroads

Trump and Kim will meet next month to restart stalled talks

President decides after talks with North Korea envoy, but venue to be announced later

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, 2018. The two will meet again next month.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON/SEOUL -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet for a second time near the end of February, the White House announced after the president met with the North's top nuclear envoy on Friday.

The site of the second summit will be announced later, the statement said.

Trump met with Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party and a close aide to leader Kim Jong Un, in the Oval Office for an hour and a half. The envoy is believed to have hand-delivered a letter from his leader, as he did in June 2018.

After the meeting, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that the discussions were "productive."

Kim Yong Chol went to the White House after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Washington hotel earlier on Friday. After the White House visit, Kim had lunch with Pompeo.

In the first high-level bilateral gathering since Pompeo visited the North in October, the secretary and Kim Yong Chol discussed ways to advance talks over denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. Little progress has been made since Trump and Kim Jong Un met last June in Singapore.

Kim Yong Chol arrived in Washington on Thursday evening, on a commercial flight from Beijing. He was greeted at the airport by Steve Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.

The two moved to a VIP room at the airport, where they spoke. The North Korean envoy spent the night at a hotel roughly 1 km away from the White House, South Korean media reported. He is scheduled to leave for Beijing on Saturday.

This is the first time in 19 years that a senior North Korean official is staying multiple days in Washington, since an envoy for Kim Jong Un's father Kim Jong Il visited to meet then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

An exchange of letters between the two leaders paved the way for the decision to hold a second summit. Trump said on Jan. 2 he had received a "great letter" from Kim and that the two will “probably have another meeting.”

The president later sent his own message to Kim and proposed holding a summit in Vietnam or Thailand. Central Vietnam's Danang and the country's capital, Hanoi, are seen as likely venues.

Yet, the two sides remain far apart. The U.S. has insisted that Pyongyang stick to Kim's promise of "complete denuclearization" from the Singapore summit and disclose all its warheads and facilities, as well as submit to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wednesday speech.

Meanwhile, the North has requested that Washington take "corresponding measures" in return for its dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and a missile engine testing area at Tongchang-ri. Having economic sanctions lifted is a chief desire for Pyongyang. But Sanders, the White House press secretary, said on Friday that the U.S. will "continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization."

North Korea wants a phased denuclearization and looks to make a series of small concessions to extract maximum benefits. On Jan. 8, Kim Jong Un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to highlight close ties with the key Pyongyang backer. To prevent North Korea from gaining the upper hand, the U.S. insists on first mapping out a clear path to denuclearization.

As preparations for the summit accelerate, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui is reportedly expected to meet Biegun, the U.S. special envoy, in Stockholm.

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