Capping off two days of high profile meetings with North Korea's Kim Yong Chol, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says "real progress" has been made toward a deal that would allow for a summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump.
South Korean media speculated that Pompeo could make a third trip to Pyongyang and that Kim Yong Chol was carrying a personal letter from Kim Jong Un and might push to travel to Washington to meet with Trump.
Sent as Kim Jong Un's envoy to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, Kim Yong Chol told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that Pyongyang was open to talks with Washington, the first indication North Korea was changing course after months of trading threats and insults with the United States.
Trump said he wasn't sure if a deal to nail down a June 12 summit with the North Korean leader was taking shape, but he told reporters that the negotiations "are in good hands", as he boarded Air Force One Thursday morning for Houston.
"I look forward to the day I can take the sanctions off North Korea", Trump said.
Kim Yong Chol, left, Vice Chairman of North Korea, during his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre, Wednesday in NY.
North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol arrives at a hotel in NY, U.S., May 30, 2018.
Despite having a border with North Korea and relatively cordial relations that President Vladimir Putin has seemed to want to develop further, Russian Federation has kept a surprisingly low profile as Kim has emerged onto the world stage this year, meeting twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Considered the North Korean leader's right-hand man, Kim Yong-chol is the most senior official from Pyongyang to visit the United States in 18 years.
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The talks are being held at the 39th floor condo of the deputy head of the US mission to the United Nations, which features a commanding view of lower Manhattan.
Cho Myoung Gyon, the South Korean unification minister, warned this week that "significant" differences remain between the USA and North Korea on how to achieve denuclearization.
Pompeo, Trump's former Central Intelligence Agency chief, has travelled to Pyongyang twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong Un.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave an upbeat assessment of preparations for the summit and said the United States is "shooting for" a reinstatement of the meeting as scheduled on June 12.
Trump and Kim spent more than an hour in the Oval Office on Friday discussing issues in the run-up to a June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim Jong Un. Relations turned sour again after George W. Bush took office in early 2001 with a tough policy on the North.
Kim is the most senior North Korean visitor to the United States since Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok visited Washington in 2000 to meet President Bill Clinton.
The specifics of the meeting have been withheld, but White House officials have noted denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as the main focus of the meeting.