By Eli Meixler
January 18, 2019

North Korea’s lead denuclearization negotiator arrived in Washington Thursday for talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Reuters reports, with the possibility of also meeting with President Donald Trump.

Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s former spy chief and top envoy, is visiting the U.S. as the two countries move closer to arranging a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June, the first ever conference between sitting leaders of the U.S. and North Korea. They signed a vague framework pledging to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but little headway has been made since on curtailing North Korea’s weapons programs.

Kim Yong Chol’s visit could mark a minor breakthrough in the diplomatic impasse. The North Korean envoy last visited the U.S. in June, ahead of the first summit. Pompeo had planned to travel to Pyongyang in November, but that mission was scrapped after Trump insisted that North Korea had not made “sufficient progress” toward denuclearization. The visit this week also comes as Trump announced a new missile defense strategy Wednesday that identified North Korea as an ongoing military threat.

But Kim Jong Un signaled optimism for the stalled talks in his annual New Year’s address earlier this month, reiterating his willingness to meet Trump again and predicting that relations between the two adversaries could “advance at a fast and excellent pace.”

Write to Eli Meixler at eli.meixler@time.com.

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