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Who is Kim Yong Chol, the top North Korean official headed to New York?

WASHINGTON -- President Trump confirmed Tuesday that a top North Korean official is headed to New York for talks attempting to salvage a summit between Mr. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. That top official is Kim Yong Chol -- a former military intelligence chief and a vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee tasked with inter-Korean relations.

Kim Yong Chol has been deeply involved in the diplomacy that followed Kim Jong Un's sudden outreach to Washington and Seoul earlier this year. He is among a small group of North Korean officials who have accompanied Kim Jong Un to all four of his summits with foreign leaders in recent months -- twice with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

He also visited South Korea in February to attend the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics at the start of Kim Jong Un's charm offensive. 

Kim Yong Chol, who is about 72, is a contentious figure outside North Korea. Before taking up the job responsible for relations with South Korea in 2016 he was a four-star army general and a military intelligence chief who is thought to have been behind a slew of provocations, including two deadly attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans and an alleged 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures

Both Seoul and Washington imposed sanctions on him in recent years. 

While in the United States, Kim Yong Chol will meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who visited Pyongyang, North Korea's capital -- twice recently -- to finalize plans for the North Korea-U.S. summit. But it's not known what else he'll do while in the U.S. 

2018 Winter Olympic Games - Closing Ceremony

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, watches the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 25, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Pool/Getty Images

His visit will follow a recent diplomatic back-and-forth that began when Mr. Trump on Thursday abruptly backed away from the meeting, citing hostile comments by the North. Mr. Trump then announced the summit could still happen in Singapore on June 12, as initially scheduled, after North Korea issued an unusually conciliatory statement about his cancellation of the summit. 

Subsequently, U.S. and North Korean officials on Sunday began preliminary talks at the Korean border to set the agenda for the summit. The White House said Tuesday that Mr. Trump "continues to actively prepare" for the president's "expected summit" with Kim Jong Un in Singapore. 

While Kim Yong Chol's trip to the United States could further brighten the prospects for the summit, history shows that things could still crumble at the last minute even after an exchange of high-level officials.