Talks between Kim Yong-chol and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be aimed at determining whether a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, originally scheduled for June 12 but later canceled by Trump, can be restored.

North Korea's Kim Yong-chol walks into a hotel in New York, Wednesday. May 30, 2018.
North Korea's Kim Yong-chol walks into a hotel in New York, Wednesday. May 30, 2018. (AP)

A senior North Korean official made a rare visit to the United States on Wednesday for talks about a possible summit between the leaders of the two countries but the sides appeared far apart on the central issue of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

Kim Yong-chol, a close aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee, arrived at New York's John F Kennedy airport on a flight from Beijing. He was later seen entering a hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Kim Yong-chol is due to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss whether to go ahead with an unprecedented meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim.

The summit, originally planned for June 12 in Singapore, has been cast in doubt as the two countries - which have technically been at war since the 1950s - test each other's diplomatic mettle.

Trump last week called off the summit after North Korea expressed anger at comments by senior US officials. But Trump later said he was reconsidering his position and US, North Korean and South Korean officials have gone ahead with summit preparations anyway.

TRT World's Tetiana Anderson on the agenda of the talks.

The White House said on Wednesday that negotiations at the demilitarized zone along the border between North and South Korea for the summit were going well and that it expects the historic meeting to take place on June 12.

Separately on Wednesday at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Admiral Harry Harris, the outgoing head of US Pacific Command who is Trump's pick to be the ambassador to South Korea, said North Korea remained the United States' most imminent threat. 

"And a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable," Harris said.

A US official said negotiations about the summit's agenda have so far been slow going, and the two fundamental issues, the definition of North Korean denuclearization and whether both sides would take actions at the same time or separately, remained unsettled.

Kim Yong Chol is the most senior North Korean official to meet top officials for talks in the United States since Jo Myong Rok, a vice marshal, met then-President Bill Clinton at the White House in 2000.

A former military spy chief, he has played a central role in the thaw in relations over the past six months between North Korea and South Korea, as well as the United States.

During his tenure as a senior intelligence official, Kim was accused by South Korea of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. He was linked by U.S intelligence to a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

North Korea denied any involvement in the attack on the ship and on Sony Pictures.

North Korea defends its nuclear and missile programs as a deterrent against what it sees as U.S. ambitions to overthrow its leadership and unite the Korean Peninsula. The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Source: Reuters