North Korea’s General Kim Yong-Chol to Visit U.S., First Such Visit in 18 Years
General Kim Yong-chol is considered to be the right-hand man of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Photo: CBC.ca)

U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday morning that a top North Korean official was heading to the United States for talks to restart the June 12 summit with leader Kim Jong Un.

“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Yong Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York,” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Former intelligence chief Gen Kim Yong-chol is the most senior North Korean official to visit the U.S. since 2000. This would be the first time a North Korean leader has met a sitting U.S. president. Kim Yong-Chol’s visit to U.S. is the latest indication that an on-again-off-again meeting between Trump and North Korea's leader may indeed happen next month.

The BBC describes General Kim, 72, as a controversial figure in neighbouring South Korea, who has previously served as a negotiator in inter-Korean talks. During his time as a military intelligence head, he was accused of being behind attacks on South Korean targets, including the torpedoing of a South Korea warship which killed 46 seamen, as well as the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures.

The talks indicate that planning for the unprecedented summit, initially scheduled for June 12, is moving ahead after Trump called it off last week in a letter to the North's leader, Kim Jong Un.

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee and formerly head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency, was scheduled to fly to the United States on Wednesday after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing an unidentified source.

The visit also comes a day after two separate teams of U.S. officials were in Asia – one team is in North Korea to speak with their counterparts, while another logistics team was in Singapore – a visit that Trump had said was for “making arrangements” for the summit.

The flurry of co-ordination comes after a surprise meet between South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Kim Jong-un on Friday, May 25, which South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim Jong Un had requested.