North Korea official meets Trump in rare White House visit


WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - A senior North Korean official met U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday at the White House to hand him a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as the two countries try to put a derailed summit back on track.

Kim Yong Chol, a close aide to the North Korean leader, is the highest level figure from the secretive state to hold talks at the White House since a senior envoy visited former President Bill Clinton in 2000.

The envoy walked into the Oval Office to meet Trump.

The United States previously blacklisted Kim Yong Chol, who once served as a bodyguard to the current leader's father Kim Jong Il, from coming to the United States because of his role in North Korea's military establishment.

After exchanging threats and insults since Trump became president last year, the United States and North Korea have been trying to set up a summit, originally planned for Singapore on June 12, between their leaders at which Trump wants to pressure Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons.

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A look at the day Trump cancelled the North Korea summit
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A look at the day Trump cancelled the North Korea summit
A man watches a television news screen showing US President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R), at a railway station in Seoul on May 25, 2018. - US President Donald Trump on May 24 called off his planned June summit with Kim Jong Un, blaming 'open hostility' from the North Korean regime and warning Pyongyang against committing any 'foolish or reckless acts.' (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A letter from U.S. President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un canceling their upcoming planned summit in Singapore is seen in this photo released by the White House in Washington, U.S. May 24, 2018. The White House via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A commemorative coin released by the White House for a potential 'peace summit,' featuring the names and silhouettes of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader�Kim�Jung�Un, is displayed for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 24, 2018. Trump�canceled his planned�summit�with Kim Jong Un�that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, citing 'tremendous anger and open hostility' in recent statements from Pyongyang. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A news editor in Washington, DC looks at the 'deal of the day' on the official website of the White House gift shop May 24, 2018 as the commemorative coin featuring US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un goes for USD 19.95 instead of the regular price of USD 24.95. - The price of the coin, struck by the White House Communications Agency ahead of the much anticipated US-North Korea summit meeting, seemed to lose value shortly after Trump called off the June 12, 2018 summit blaming 'tremenduous anger' and 'hostility' from the North Korean regime and warning Pyongyang against committing any 'foolish or reckless acts.' (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 25: A man reads a newspaper at Seoul railway station on May 25, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. The U.S. President Donald Trump called off the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore due to 'tremendous anger and open hostility' in recent statements from Pyongyang. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 25: People watch a TV report at Seoul railway station on May 25, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. The U.S. President Donald Trump called off the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore due to 'tremendous anger and open hostility' in recent statements from Pyongyang. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
A man reads the front page of a newspaper at a railway station in Seoul on May 25, 2018 showing a picture of US President Donald Trump. - US President Donald Trump on May 24 called off his planned June summit with Kim Jong Un, blaming 'open hostility' from the North Korean regime and warning Pyongyang against committing any 'foolish or reckless acts.' (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man watches a television news showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) and US President Donald Trump (L), at a railway station in Seoul on May 24, 2018. - North Korea has dismantled its nuclear test site, media invited to attend the ceremony said on May 24, in a carefully choreographed move portrayed by the isolated regime as a goodwill gesture ahead of a potential summit next month with the US. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A commemorative coin released by the White House for a potential 'peace summit,' featuring the names and silhouettes of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader�Kim�Jung�Un, is arranged photograph taken in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 24, 2018. Trump�canceled his planned�summit�with Kim Jong Un�that had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, citing 'tremendous anger and open hostility' in recent statements from Pyongyang. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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In comments to Reuters on Thursday, Trump played down the chances of a quick breakthrough in the nuclear diplomacy. He said he was hopeful an unprecedented meeting with leader Kim would take place as scheduled but left open the possibility talks would fall through.

Kim's letter is seen as a sign that the summit might be back on after Trump canceled it late last month because of North Korea's "tremendous anger and open hostility."

SEE ALSO: Pompeo says North Korea talks moving in right direction

The Wall Street Journal said Kim's letter was seen as fairly basic, according to one foreign government official who was briefed on the contents. It expresses the North Korean leader’s interest in meeting without making any significant concessions or threats, the Journal said, citing a foreign government official who had been briefed on the letter.

LONG HISTORY

The envoy, Kim Yong Chol was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency, and has spent nearly 30 years as a senior member of the country's intelligence community.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted him for supporting the North's nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016. He was granted special permission to travel to the United States for meetings this week with top U.S. officials, the State Department said.

Kim Yong Chol was accused by South Korea of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. He also was linked by U.S. intelligence to a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

North Korea denied any involvement in either incident.

South Korean officials say Kim Yong Chol stormed out of the room during military talks in 2014 when the South demanded an apology for the 2010 attacks.

He served in the military police in the demilitarized zone on the border of the two Koreas. He was also a bodyguard to Kim Jong Il, the former leader and late father of Kim Jong Un, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, an affiliate of the 38 North think tank.

Kim Yong Chol is known to be difficult to work with, sarcastic and not sufficiently deferential to his superiors, Leadership Watch said.

He also has suffered career setbacks. South Korea's intelligence agency said in 2015 Kim Yong Chol was demoted to a three-star general after dozing off during a meeting.

In 2016, South Korea's Unification Ministry said he was briefly sent to a re-education camp for his "overbearing" manner and abuse of power.

In Seoul, U.S. negotiators on Friday expressed optimism after meeting their North Korean counterparts for preparatory talks at Panmunjom, on the fortified border between the two Koreas.

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