SEOUL: Twelve North Korean officials – including Kim Jong Un’s de-facto chief of staff – have arrived in Beijing en-route to Vietnam ahead of a second scheduled summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Friday (Jan 15).
The North Koreans were expected to board a plane bound for the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Yonhap said, with the high-stakes meeting now less than two weeks away.
“A group of 12 North Koreans, including Kim Chang Son, were on the boarding list” of a plane bound for Beijing, Yonhap said, citing a source in the capital.
The identities of the 11 other officials were not reported.
READ: Real progress needed at second Trump-Kim summit: Analysts
Pyongyang has yet to provide any official confirmation of the Feb 27 to 28 summit, which will be the second time the two leaders come together following their Jun 12 Singapore meeting.
That produced a vaguely-worded document in which Kim pledged to work towards denuclearisation – with no hard timeline agreed.
READ: Highlights: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s historic summit
In preparation for Hanoi, US envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun was last week in Pyongyang for three days of talks with officials.
Biegun said they had been productive, but more dialogue was needed.
“We have some hard work to do with the DPRK between now and then,” Biegun said, adding that he was “confident that if both sides stay committed we can make real progress here”.
The US State Department said talks during Biegun’s trip explored Trump and Kim’s “commitments of complete denuclearization, transforming US-DPRK relations and building a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula”.
Earlier this week Vietnam’s foreign minister Pham Binh Minh visited Pyongyang but no details on their discussions have been announced.
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READ: Singapore to Hanoi – The bumpy diplomatic road since Trump and Kim first met
Experts say tangible progress on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons will be needed for the second summit if it is to avoid being dismissed as “reality TV”.
Discussions on declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War could also have been on the table, with Biegun last week saying Trump was “ready to end this war”.
The three-year conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war, with the US keeping 28,500 troops in the South.
Kim Chang Son was part of the team overseeing protocol in the run-up to the Singapore summit.