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(LEAD) Top N. Korean official heads to New York for talks with Pompeo

All Headlines 15:19 May 30, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with details in paras 3-4)

BEIJING, May 30 (Yonhap) -- A high-ranking North Korean official left Beijing for New York on Wednesday apparently to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Worker's Party of Korea, took Air China flight CA981, according to diplomatic sources here.

His five-member entourage appears to include Choe Kang-il, acting director-general for North American affairs at the North Korean foreign ministry, and Kim Song-hye, an official who has long been in charge of inter-Korean issues.

Kim evaded contact with media at the international airport in Beijing.

The U.S. confirmed earlier that he will visit New York this week and announced that Pompeo is also traveling there.

They are expected to hold last-stage discussions on whether to press ahead with the unprecedented summit between the two sides in Singapore on June 12.

The North Korean delegation, led by Kim Yong-chol, boards a plane bound for New York at an international airport in Beijing on May 30, 2018. (Yonhap)

In recent weeks, the two, both of whom worked as state spy agency chiefs, have played a key role in direct communication between Pyongyang and Washington after years of standoffs. Pompeo visited Pyongyang twice as the top U.S. diplomat.

Kim, who doubles as head of the United Front Department that handles inter-Korean affairs, has also emerged as a key player in North Korean diplomacy.

Kim's team arrived in Beijing on Tuesday. A source said the North Koreans initially booked a ticket for the CA817 flight to Washington, D.C. but changed it to the CA981 one.

The team did not pay for the ticket until Wednesday morning amid speculation that it might have been connected with the U.S. travel ban on Kim for his alleged involvement in the North's nuclear program and other illicit activities.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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