SEOUL/WASHINGTON -- Preparations for a planned June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un intensified on Tuesday with a flurry of diplomatic activity.
A top aide to Kim headed to New York to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss a potential timeline for denuclearizing the North. Pompeo is reportedly planning to travel to New York on Wednesday and return to Washington on Thursday.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on Tuesday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Washington on June 7. Abe is expected to be one of the last global leaders to talk directly to Trump ahead of the Singapore summit, hoping to press the U.S. leader to mention the issue of abducted Japanese citizens at the meeting with Kim.
The official heading to New York via Beijing is Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea. As a former head of Pyongyang's spy agency, he has been involved in unofficial negotiations with the CIA. He was also present when Kim Jong Un met Pompeo in North Korea on May 9 and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday.
The U.S. and North Korea have been conducting working-level talks to negotiate the details of the summit. Sung Kim, former American ambassador to South Korea and current ambassador to the Philippines, met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui for about three hours Sunday at the Panmunjom truce village in the demilitarized zone. But they were unable to agree on certain topics that require discussion at a higher level, sources familiar with the matter said.
Washington wants Pyongyang to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and agree to transport its nuclear warheads out of the country. But such sensitive decisions would need to come from the top. If Kim Yong Chol and Pompeo can reach an understanding, the exact language for the leaders to sign will be ironed out in working-level meetings.
Trump confirmed Kim Yong Chol's trip on Twitter on Tuesday: "Solid response to my letter, thank you!" Trump was referring to his missive to the North Korean leader on Thursday, in which he temporarily canceled their summit, citing "tremendous anger and open hostility" by Pyongyang.
But uncertainties remain. North Korea's Rodong Sinmun published a commentary Tuesday urging the U.S. and South Korea to stop their joint military drills. Given that the U.S. and North Korea are talking, "it is unnecessary for the U.S. to stage the joint military exercises, the main root cause of aggravating tension and bringing nuclear war to the Korean Peninsula," the newspaper said.