It is a good sign that high-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong Chol has traveled to the United States for meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials, as he has the ear of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, former UN Ambassador and Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday.
"He is head of the intelligence service, which is the biggest power center next to Kim Jong Un in North Korea," Richardson told Fox News' "America's Newsroom."
"He has Kim Jong Un's ear. He did all those cyberattacks on Sony, so he is a big player."
Richardson said he thinks, but is not sure, that he met the vice chairman during his own diplomatic travels in North Korea and described him to show co-host Sandra Smith as being a "heavyweight," and meeting with Pompeo makes a lot of sense before the planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim.
"We have to narrow the gap between what we consider denuclearization and what the North Koreans considered it is," said Richardson. "Both leaders need this summit for their own political strategic reasons, but this is a good sign, whether the summit takes place June 12, or if it is put off a few days, a couple of weeks, I think that's fine."
It is best to be "completely prepared," he added, pointing out that he's negotiated with North Koreans and "they're relentless, they're very focused, and we have to be focused too."
Richardson said he thinks Pompeo has already done a good job meeting with North Koreans and Kim Jong Un, but "then the rubber meets the road."
"The results of the summit, I think, what Pompeo is asking the president to do is [to] find a way to have denuclearization of the North Koreans, but on a phased basis, on a step-by-step basis," said Richardson. "[That is] closest to what the South Korean government wants."
Richardson said he believes Trump needs to remain flexible, and noted that in fact, he did say he is ready to see North Korean denuclearization occur in phases rather than instantly.
"I think he is showing a little flexibility and Pompeo is trying to narrow the gap with the president before he goes into this meeting with the North Koreans," said Richardson.
"You want to have a semi-agreement, pre-cooked agreement before you have the summit, which will be a lot of pageantry and photo ops. You want to have more or less where you want to end up before you start the summit and that's what Pompeo is trying to do."
The agreements, though, must include strong inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and timelines for the steps toward denuclearization, said Richardson.
Richardson said it does appear that the summit will take place, despite a letter sent from Trump earlier this month saying the United States was pulling out.
"It is because both leaders need it and the international community needs it, because you want dramatically less tension in the Korean peninsula," said Richardson.
"I think the issue is going to be will it happen June12. Look, I don't think that should be criticized if it doesn't happen then. If a few more weeks are needed, let's do that."
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