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.
According to the Associated Press, Kim – North Korea’s former intelligence chief – would be the most senior North Korean official to visit the U.S. in decades.As Kim Jong Un’s righthand man, is a controversial figure in his own right. Trump did not specify who Kim would be meeting with, or if he was heading to Washington D.C. in addition to New York. The AP had spotted him at an airport in Beijing on Tuesday.
The announcement seems to be the next step in moving the summit forward, despite the Trump’s letter to Kim Jong Un last Thursday telling him it was off. U.S. officials visited North Korea over Memorial Day weekend to speak with their counterparts, a visit that Trump had said was for “making arrangements” for the summit.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had been instrumental in encouraging the two leaders to convene, met with Kim Jong Un over the weekend, which South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim Jong Un had requested. And after Trump spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, the White House confirmed the two would stay in close coordination ahead of the “expected” meeting with North Korea.
The summit with Kim Jong Un and Trump had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. On May 24, Trump sent a letter to Kim Jong Un announcing that he was cancelling the historic meeting because of the harsh rhetoric coming from North Korean officials. They had expressed alarm following comments from National Security Adviser John Bolton comparing their country’s situation to Libya. (In 2003, Libya’s former leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon the country’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief. He was overthrown and executed eight years later). After Vice President Mike Pence reiterated the analogy on cable television Choe Sun Hoi, North Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, called him a “political dummy” and threatened a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
Trump appeared to take credit for the recent developments, callingKim Yong Chol’s visit, “a solid response to my letter.” But as TIME reported on Monday, analysts predict that even if the summit ultimately happens, Trump lost significant leverage when he sent that letter.
[Kim could] “continue to play nice in public but stall out the process behind closed doors,” Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, told TIME. “Trump has ensured that he will take most of the blame for a failure of diplomacy.”
–With reporting by Joseph Hincks/Seoul, and Charlie Campbell/Beijing