By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) - Three North Korean officials, including the top envoy involved in talks with the United States, are booked on a flight to Washington, South Korean media reported on Wednesday, suggesting possible movement toward a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. and South Korean media quoted sources as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were expected to meet on Friday in the U.S. capital to discuss the summit.
The White House and the U.S. State Department declined to confirm the reports, perhaps wary of another last-minute cancellation. Pompeo planned to meet his counterpart to discuss a second summit last November, but the State Department had to postpone the meeting the day after announcing it.
While Trump has been eager to hold a second summit with Kim, on Wednesday U.S. Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged that efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal had not made headway.
"While the president is promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region," Pence said in an address to U.S. ambassadors and other senior American diplomats at the State Department.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing an unidentified Chinese airport official, said Kim Yong Chol, along with North Korea's vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, and a third official, would leave Beijing on Thursday for Washington.
Kim Yong Chol was last in Washington in June, when he delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump that opened the way for an unprecedented meeting between leaders of the two countries in Singapore on June 12.
CNN quoted a source familiar with U.S.-North Korea talks as saying that Kim Yong Chol would be carrying a new letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump in Washington.
If he stays overnight in Washington, Kim Yong Chol would be the first top North Korean to do so since the late Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok did so ahead of talks with then-President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000.
In Singapore, the North Korean leader pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but there has been little significant progress since.
Contact was resumed after Kim Jong Un delivered a New Year speech in which he said he was willing to meet Trump "at any time," South Korea's ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, told reporters last week.
The two sides would seek "interim" measures to revitalize the denuclearization process, South Korea officials told Reuters, but North Korea has demanded a lifting of U.S. sanctions and dismissed U.S. demands it declare all its nuclear weapons and facilities.
In spite of Pence's remarks, a White House official referred to past comments by Trump that "a lot of positive things are happening" with North Korea.
"He and Chairman Kim have established a good relationship, and conversations between the United States and North Korea continue," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, when asked about reports of the coming talks in Washington.
"We are working to make progress on our goal of achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, and the president looks forward to meeting Chairman Kim again at their second summit at a place and time yet to be determined."
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Wednesday that if North Korea took concrete steps toward abandoning its weapons programs, Washington could offer a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, humanitarian aid, or a permanent channel for bilateral dialogue in return.
"There are various discussions over U.S. corresponding action, but after all, the United States would have to give something and North Korea take it," Kang told a news conference.
Kang said denuclearisation should be implemented "in stages."
The United States has suspended major joint military exercises with South Korea to encourage dialogue with Pyongyang, though smaller-scale drills continue. Kim Jong Un called for a complete halt to the exercises in his New Year speech.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; editing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 03:07:05 IST