North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has dispatched one of his top aides to the United States for talks ahead of his planned summit with Donald Trump next month, according to a person familiar with the issue who asked not to be named because the trip isn't public.
North Korean watchers here say that North Korea and the USA seem to have reached a broad agreement on the timeline and road map for North Korea's denuclearization - North Korea takes steps to abandon its nuclear weapons program in a short, compressed period of time in return for the U.S. taking measures to guarantee the Kim Jong-un regime's survival.
Kim Yong-chol is the first high-level North Korean official to step foot on US soil in 18 years.
Trump tweeted earlier on Tuesday that the senior North Korean official was en route to the US, calling the visit a "solid response" to his letter.
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.
Meanwhile, Russia announced Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit North Korea on Thursday and hold talks with his counterpart about the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Trump pulled out of the meeting Kim Jong Un last week, but then said a day later that it could get back on track.
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"We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea", Mr Trump said in a tweet today.
According to Yonhap, the official's visit was anticipated as a response gesture to the recent trips of US State Secretary Mike Pompeo to North Korea.
Following an unusually provocative 2017 in which Kim's engineers tested a purported thermonuclear warhead and three long-range missiles theoretically capable of striking mainland US cities, the North Korean leader has engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent months.
In October 2000, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the late dictator father of Kim Jong Un, sent Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok to Washington on a then-unprecedented goodwill mission.
Since then, North Korea has rejected USA demands for it to unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons programme that experts say could threaten the US.
South Korean media also reported that a North Korean delegation arrived in Singapore on Monday night for likely summit preparations with USA officials. Kim was seen in the Beijing airport on Tuesday by Associated Press Television.
On Monday, veteran American diplomat Sung Kim led an American delegation to Panmunjom at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) for talks with North Korean officials. A USA advance team is in Singapore, setting up logistics for a meeting. The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
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Trump to cancel the summit in a letter to counterpart Kim Jung Un before diplomatic efforts were renewed in the past week. The last ministerial-level talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang were in 2015, also on the sidelines of an Asean meeting.
Kim Yong Chol has been a central player in the recent negotiations between North Korea and South Korea, as well as the United States.
While Kim Yong Chol's trip to the United States could further brighten the prospects, history shows that plans for a summit could still crumble.
Ivanka Trump and Kim Yong Chol at the closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February 2018.
The talks are expected to continue this week.
The general is a notorious figure in South Korea, where he is accused of masterminding the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan navy corvette, which killed 46 sailors, an attack for which North Korea denies responsibility.
"Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place". The nuclear confrontation deepened in 2002, with the Bush administration accusing North Korea of running a clandestine uranium enrichment program in breach of a 1994 disarmament deal.
During that period, North Korea ramped up its hacking programmes, including a hugely costly penetration of Sony Pictures.
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