Meet the former North Korean spy chief headed to the US as part of a furious attempt to save the Trump-Kim summit

Getty ImagesKim Yong Chol
  • A top North Korean official was en route to New York City on Tuesday as the White House works to save tentatively planned talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
  • Kim Yong Chol, 72, is North Korea’s former intelligence chief, the vice chairman of North Korea’s Party Central Committee, and one of Kim Jong Un’s most trusted advisers.
  • Kim Yong Chol’s visit to the US seems to suggest both Washington and Pyongyang are determined to see the talks move forward.

A top North Korean official headed New York City on Tuesday as the White House works to save tentatively planned talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to confirm that the official, Kim Yong Chol, was on his way to the US.

“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!” he tweeted.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Kim is set to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he arrives in New York.Pompeo and Kim have reportedly met in the past during the secretary of state’s recent trips to Pyongyang.

Kim will be the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the US since 2000. The White House on Tuesday signalled Trump is continuing to prepare for the summit with North Korea, an issue on which has flip-flopped in recent days.

Trump sent a letter to the North Korean leader last week that effectively canceled the summit, but he has left the door open as his administration has reportedly continued discussions with the North Korean government. The highly anticipated meeting was originally set to happen on June 12 in Singapore.

Kim’s visit to the US seems to suggest both Washington and Pyongyang are determined to see the talks move forward.

Getty ImagesKim Yong Chol (R)

Kim Yong Chol has been a powerful figure in North Korea for years

Kim Yong Chol, 72, is North Korea’s former intelligence chief, the vice chairman of North Korea’s Party Central Committee, and one of Kim Jong Un’s most trusted advisers.

The ex-spy chief has served all three leaders in the Kim dynasty and headed the General Reconnaissance Bureau intelligence agency for roughly 30 years. Between his decades of experience and variety of positions in the North Korean government, Kim is “one of the most powerful figures in North Korea,” according to North Korea Leadership Watch, part of an online policy journal on North Korea.

Kim is believed to be behind the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship known as the Cheonan in 2010 that ultimately killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied any involvement in the incident, according to Time magazine.

The former intelligence chief is also thought to be behind the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures and was among those sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in its aftermath.

Kim attended the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea back in February and was pictured standing close to Ivanka Trump.

North Korea’s participation in February’s Winter Olympics was part of a broader warming of relations between the rogue state and South Korea, which also helped make room for the planned talks between the US and North Korea.

Trump is still preparing for the summit with Kim Jong Un

If Trump and Kim Jong Un do end up meeting, the president hopes to convince the North Korean leader to agree to the full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Some are sceptical as to whether Pyongyang will fully comply with such a request, no matter what concessions it receives in return.

When Trump canceled the meeting with North Korea, he cited the government’s recent aggressive rhetoric toward the US and its allies. The North Korean government has softened its tone somewhat in the wake of this move, which has seemingly convinced the Trump administration to move forward with preparations for the talks.

“Since the president’s May 24 letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the North Koreans have been engaging,” the White House said Tuesday. “The United States continues to actively prepare for President Trump’s expected summit with leader Kim in Singapore.”

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