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N. Korean Kim's aide leaves for Washington for talks about U.S. summit

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left Thursday for Washington by air from Beijing to lay the groundwork for a second summit between the two countries, as their denuclearization negotiations remain at an impasse.

The North Korean senior official boarded a Washington-bound flight of United Airlines, a major U.S. carrier, after having arrived from Pyongyang earlier in the day. He is reportedly carrying a letter from Kim Jong Un to U.S. President Donald Trump.

The vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea is likely to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday and, if progress is made in those talks, meet with Trump, diplomatic sources said.

Kim Yong Chol -- who last June became the first North Korean high-ranking official to visit the White House in 18 years -- and Pompeo may finalize the date and venue of the next summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, the sources added.

Trump could announce his second summit with Kim Jong Un as early as Friday after meeting with Kim Yong Chol at the White House, the Washington Post reported, citing U.S. and Asian diplomats.

If announced soon, Trump and Kim Jong Un would probably meet in March or April, with Danang, Vietnam, seeming to be the most likely venue, according to people familiar with the flurry of diplomatic activity over the past month, the U.S. daily said.

Reuters, meanwhile, reported Thursday that Vietnam is preparing to receive Kim Jong Un for a state visit, while voicing willingness to host a second Trump-Kim summit. Both the United States and North Korea have embassies in Hanoi.

Kim Jong Un will travel to Vietnam after the Chinese New Year holiday in early February, the news agency quoted a source familiar with the matter as saying.

At their historic meeting in Singapore on June 12, 2018, Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed that Washington would provide security guarantees to Pyongyang in return for "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

Negotiations between the United States and North Korea, however, have shown little sign of moving forward against the backdrop of the Trump administration's skepticism about Pyongyang's intention to give up nuclear weapons.

Pompeo, who made several trips to Pyongyang last year, had planned to meet Kim Yong Chol in November in New York, but the talks were called off at the last minute.

At his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month in Beijing, Kim Jong Un pledged to stick to his goal of denuclearization and achieve "results" that would be welcomed by the international community at his possible next summit with Trump.

During the summit, Xi also expressed support for North Korea's efforts to hold more summit meetings with the United States.

In the wake of the latest agreement between Xi and Kim Jong Un, speculation has been growing that a second U.S.-North Korea summit will take place in the not-so-distant future.

China is known as North Korea's closest and most influential ally. They fought together in the 1950-1953 Korean War against U.S.-led United Nations forces and have long been described as "blood brothers."

By contrast, North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations as they remain technically at war.

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