WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would go forward on June 12 in Singapore.
The announcement came after Trump met for more than 1 1/2 hours in the Oval Office with Kim Yong Chol, the vice-chairman of North Korea’s Central Committee, who delivered a personal letter from Kim Jong Un. The letter viewed as an effort to bolster ongoing negotiations and ease tensions after Trump abruptly canceled the summit last week amid escalating threats from Pyongyang.
“It’s going to have to be a process, but relationships are building, and that’s a very good thing,” Trump told reporters. Trump called it a “very nice letter.”
In the meeting with Kim Yong Chol, Trump added, “we talked about a lot. And we talked about sanctions.”
Shortly after 1 p.m., a black sport utility vehicle entered the White House grounds and pulled up to the South Portico, where Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief who is leading the North Korea side in pre-summit talks, stepped out. He was greeted by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Andrew Kim, a CIA official in charge of the agency’s Korea Mission Center.
They were spotted by reporters walking along the Colonnade toward the West Wing, where the group escorted Kim into the Oval Office. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Kim Yong Chol in New York on Thursday, was also visible in the meeting through a window in images captured by television cameras.
Kim Yong Chol became the first North Korea official in 18 years to visit the White House since President Bill Clinton met in the Oval Office with Jo Myong Rok, a top military official and attache to Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father. Jo presented Clinton with a letter from the North Korean leader inviting him for a meeting in Pyongyang, an invitation Clinton ultimately turned down.
While Jo wore a military uniform, Kim Yong Chol was dressed in a dark business suit.
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Kim’s visit represented an extraordinary turn of events. He had been personally sanctioned by the United States over his role in the North’s nuclear weapons program and is thought to have masterminded an attack that sank a South Korean naval vessel in 2010, killing 46 sailors. Kim needed a special waiver from the State Department to travel to New York and to Washington.
“Very good meetings with North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Trump had called off the summit last week, citing “open hostility” from North Korea after a top Kim aide had called Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” and threatened a nuclear showdown. But another aide later sent a more conciliatory note to Trump, who instructed his own staff to continue lower-level talks. A pair of U.S. delegations have held talks this week with their North Korean counterparts at the Korean demilitarized zone and in Singapore.
U.S. officials have expressed optimism that the two sides are making progress toward resolving differences over the summit’s agenda and logistical planning. But key gaps remain.
The Trump administration has pressed for the North to rapidly takes steps to turn over its nuclear program, while Pyongyang has said it expects a slower, step-by-step process in which the North receives reciprocal benefits, including economic incentives.
Former U.S. officials who have negotiated with North Korea have cautioned that the Kim family regime has violated past deals aimed at curbing the nation’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
But Trump has expressed optimism that his unorthodox approach could lead to a breakthrough. He was scheduled to depart the White House on Friday afternoon to spend the weekend at Camp David, where is scheduled to participate in North Korea briefings, aides said.