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North Korea Crisis

Kim Jong Un aide meets Pompeo in New York

'Good working dinner' held with former spy chief before Thursday talks

North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol arrives at a hotel in New York on Wednesday.   © Reuters

NEW YORK / SEOUL -- A top aide to Kim Jong Un arrived in New York on Wednesday and met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an attempt to get a planned U.S.-North Korea summit back on track.

The two talked over a dinner for about 90 minutes. "Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight," tweeted Pompeo.

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea and the country's former spy chief, arrived at a hotel in New York not far from the United Nations building around 3:30 pm, traveling with a U.S. government escort. He was accompanied by Choe Kang Il, a senior North Korean diplomat specializing in U.S. relations. North Korea's ambassador to the U.N. Ja Song Nam also entered the hotel.

The talks are scheduled to conclude on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, the White House expressed optimism on Wednesday about the ongoing negotiations along the border between North and South Korea. "The U.S. delegation led by Ambassador Sung Kim met with North Korean officials today ... and their talks will continue," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. "So far the readouts from these meetings have been positive and we'll continue to move forward in them," she said at a regularly scheduled briefing.

"We're going to continue to shoot for June 12th and expect to do that," she added, referring to the original date scheduled for the summit in Singapore.

The purpose of Kim Yong Chol's visit to New York is twofold. First, the official will convey the North Korean leader's desire to move past hostilities. In his letter to Kim last Thursday calling off the June 12 summit,  U.S. President Donald Trump put responsibility for restarting talks on North Korea's shoulders. "If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write," Trump said in the letter.

The two sides will also use the meeting to discuss details of a possible denuclearization agreement. One aim of the talks taking place between Sung Kim and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui is reaching agreement on a pact that Trump and Kim can sign at their summit. Now, Kim Yong Chol and Pompeo look to delve more deeply into the specifics of a denuclearization plan, including the timeline and specific steps, that they could then bring to their respective bosses.

The U.S. has temporarily waived sanctions on Kim that bar him from entering the country. These were imposed over the then-spy chief's suspected role in the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval patrol ship, in 2010.

Separately, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday issued a joint alert on malware used by the North Korean government. Hackers affiliated with Pyongyang have used two types of malicious software to target sensitive data held by multiple victims in the U.S. and abroad since at least 2009, according to the statement.

Kim Yong Chol is thought to have been heavily involved in cyberwarfare in the past, suggesting the alert is designed to censure Pyongyang ahead of the meeting this week. A similar statement was released last June, when the Trump administration made clear it would not hesitate to use military force against the North if necessary.

Kim is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the U.S. since 2000, when Gen. Jo Myong Rok met with President Bill Clinton at the White House. Jo carried a personal message from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and proposed measures to ease tensions between the countries. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright later visited North Korea as a result.

Nikkei staff writer Ryo Nakamura in Washington contributed to this report.

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