US President Donald Trump signaled preparations for a June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were going ahead, despite having called off the meeting last week.
Kim, who formerly headed the North's reconnaissance bureau, is expected to have been granted a temporary waiver to travel to the U.S. The two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations and therefore no representation in each other's capitals, but North Korea does have a diplomatic mission to the United Nations in NY.
Analysts believe the United States is trying to determine whether North Korea is willing to agree to sufficient steps toward getting rid of its nuclear weapons to allow a summit to take place. The White House's latest characterization of the meeting as "expected" appears to be a further sign that it could go ahead.
"We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea", Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. In addition, teams of US officials have arrived at the Korean demilitarized zone and in Singapore to prepare for the meeting.
A team of US officials led by former USA nuclear negotiator Sung Kim began talks with North Korean officials at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on Sunday to set the agenda for the summit.
The latest positive progress for the summit, originally scheduled on June 12 in Singapore, came after Trump canceled the meeting on Thursday, citing "tremendous anger and open hostility" displayed by Pyongyang recently.
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Trump's tweet offered praise for the longtime USA adversary, and the latest signal that his concerns about the North's stance toward the summit have been allayed.
Since that short-lived crisis, diplomats in both countries have conducted an intense flurry of negotiations, culminating on Thursday when Pompeo sat down in NY with Kim's number two, Kim Yong Chol.
Kim Yong Chol would be the highest-level North Korean official to travel to the United States since 2000, when Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok visited Washington and met President Bill Clinton amid warming ties between the wartime foes. Trump hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week.
Kim, one of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's most trusted aides, is a former military intelligence chief and now a vice chairman of the ruling party's central committee.
"But, as the president has said", she added, "if it doesn't happen June 12 it could happen thereafter".
But events have moved quickly since Kim Jong Un made a conciliatory New Year's address at the end of last year, following months of sharply rising tension and war-like rhetoric between Trump and Kim. Sanctions relief would open the door for more trade with China, South Korea and possibly Russian Federation partners North Korea trusts more than it trusts Washington and potentially unlock access to global financial institutions. North Korea and the United States are still technically at war and have no diplomatic ties because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Since the 1970s, the United States and South Korea have been holding a major summertime exercise called Ulchi Freedom Guardian that involves tens of thousands of troops. But there are lingering doubts on whether Kim will ever fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival in a region surrounded by enemies. Moon has insisted he can be persuaded to abandon his nuclear facilities, materials and bombs in a verifiable and irreversible way in exchange for credible security and economic guarantees.