A senior North Korean official arrived in New York Wednesday to salvage a highly anticipated summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee, arrived at JFK International Airport, becoming the highest-ranking North Korean to visit the U.S. since 2000.
He is due to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to finalize the details of what is expected to be a June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim on dismantling the North's nuclear weapons program.
The former spy chief was escorted out of the airport by U.S. State Department officials, according to a North Korean official who spoke to reporters waiting for his arrival. He was not seen at the arrivals hall.
A convoy of cars later pulled up in front of the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza hotel. The vice chairman emerged but did not answer questions from the media as he entered the building.
Known as the North Korean leader's right-hand man, Kim Yong-chol is expected to carry a personal letter from Kim amid reports the young leader is committed to denuclearization and a meeting with Trump.
The U.S. president called off the summit last week, citing Kim's "open hostility." But he has since put it back on track following a conciliatory statement from the regime.
If held, the Trump-Kim meeting will be the first summit between the two countries that have long been at odds over the North's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which are now believed to be capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
Officials from both sides have been scrambling to make the summit happen, with separate teams dispatched to the inter-Korean border and Singapore to discuss the substance of any denuclearization agreement and logistical issues, respectively.
In New York, Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo are expected to push for a deal that will satisfy U.S. demands for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) and North Korean demands for CVIG, where G stands for security guarantees for the regime.
The two officials will be meeting for dinner later Wednesday and a full day of meetings Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters in Washington.
It will be their third sit-down following meetings during Pompeo's two trips to Pyongyang in April and May.
The secretary of state left for New York after meeting with the president at the White House. The working dinner has been scheduled for 7 p.m., according to the State Department.
"Looking forward to meeting with Kim Yong Chol in New York to discuss @Potus potential summit with Chairman Kim," Pompeo tweeted, using the shorthand for president of the United States. "We are committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
There is speculation that Kim Yong-chol could visit Washington and meet with Trump. On both of his trips to Pyongyang, Pompeo held talks with the North Korean leader.
But Kim is under U.S. sanctions for his alleged role in North Korea's nuclear program and other illicit activities, including the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
He was likely granted a temporary waiver to travel to New York, and further approval would be required to travel to Washington.