Summit hangs on Kim Jong-un letter after nuclear talks make progress

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "real progress" had been made in New York

Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, arrives for a press conference after meeting with North Korea's Kim Yong Chol, not pictured, in New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Pompeo said the U.S. and North Korea made "real progress" during talks in New York over the conditions for a summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, but declined to say if the two sides bridged key differences over issues such as denuclearization. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

The United States and North Korea took a big stride Thursday towards holding a historic nuclear summit, as President Donald Trump awaited delivery of a letter from Kim Jong Un.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "real progress" had been made in New York talks with Kim's right-hand man, while in Pyongyang the Korean leader re-committed to "denuclearisation."

Washington is looking for signs that Mr Kim is ready to accept that talks must lead to him giving up his nuclear arsenal and if the letter is well received it will mark an extraordinary diplomatic turn-around.

US officials said the North Korea delegation would come to Washington to meet Mr Trump and deliver the message on Friday, one week after Mr Trump had abruptly called off preparations for the planned June 12 summit in a sharply-worded letter of his own.

Since that short-lived crisis, diplomats in both countries have conducted an intense flurry of negotiations, culminating on Thursday when Mr Pompeo sat down in New York with Kim's number two, Kim Yong Chol.

Simultaneously, Mr Kim met Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and, according to official news agency KCNA, said the North's "will for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula still remains unchanged and consistent and fixed."

It is still not clear whether North Korea's vision of "denuclearisation" in exchange for security guarantees and sanctions relief can be brought into line with Washington's demand for a "complete, verifiable and irreversible" end to its nuclear program.

But Mr Pompeo suggested things are moving in the right direction.


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"It will take bold leadership from Chairman Kim Jong Un if we were able to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world," he said.

"President Trump and I believe Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kind of decisions, and in the coming weeks and months, we will have the opportunity to test whether or not this is the case."

Kim Yong Chol -- the most senior official from Pyongyang to visit the United States in 18 years -- is expected to head to Washington to present an eagerly expectant Mr Trump with a letter from his young leader.

But Mr Pompeo warned that this message in itself may not resolve all the issues standing in the way of the summit.

"This is a difficult, difficult challenge. Make no mistake about it. There remains a great deal of work to do," Mr Pompeo said, citing ongoing talks in Singapore and in the demilitarised zone on the Korean border.

But he said that, after what has now been two meetings with Kim Jong Un and three with Kim Yong Chol, he believes the North is at least ready to consider meeting US demands for denuclearisation.

"I believe they are contemplating a path forward. They can make a strategic shift. One that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision," he said.

US officials now expect the summit to go ahead, but they want North Korea to accept that nuclear disarmament be at the heart of the discussion -- and warn that there can be no end to trade sanctions without it.

Asked whether the answer would come on Friday in the letter, Mr Pompeo said he did not know but added "we have made real progress in the last 72 hours toward setting the conditions."

"The conditions are putting President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un in a place where we think there could be real progress made by the two of them meeting," he said.

Earlier, in Washington, Mr Trump had said he was "looking forward" to reading the letter.

On his visit to Pyongyang, Mr Lavrov warned against setting expectations too high, urging all sides to "avoid the temptation to demand everything and now."

The veteran Russian envoy passed on greetings from President Vladimir Putin to Mr Kim and invited him to visit Russia, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Russia is the latest major nation to reach out to North Korea since Mr Trump accepted Mr Kim's proposal for a summit. Kim has already had two meetings each with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.