WASHINGTON: A senior North Korean envoy was headed for Washington on Thursday for expected talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a possible meeting with President Donald Trump.
Kim Yong Chol, who has led denuclearisation talks with the United States, was due to meet Pompeo on Friday.
Their talks, as well as a potential meeting with Trump, could lead to an announcement of plans for a second US-North Korea summit, according to one source.
Plans for a second Trump-Kim Jong Un summit are said to be at an advanced stage and could be revealed as early as Friday evening.
At the same time, Trump unveiled a revamped US missile defence strategy on Thursday that singles out North Korea as an ongoing and "extraordinary threat," seven months after he declared the threat posed by Pyongyang had been eliminated.
The Missile Defence Review is a sweeping examination of efforts to shield the United States from missile threats. It singles out concerns about advancing capabilities by North Korea, Iran, Russia and China.
Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan acknowledged the threat from those countries, and noted that North Korea's missiles remain a "significant concern."
The document was even stronger.
"While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant," the report said in its executive summary.
For Trump, who is trying to revive efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal, the report's release came at an awkward moment, with summit plans said to be well advanced.
US military officials have said US missile defences are primarily designed to counter attacks from countries with more limited arsenals, like North Korea, which US intelligence officials believe is still advancing its nuclear program despite a halt to missile launches last year.
Pentagon officials contend that US missiles defences are too few to be able to counter a first-strike on the US homeland by a major nuclear power like Russia or China. Washington hopes those countries will instead be deterred from attacks by America's nuclear arsenal.
Still, Russia views US missile defence advances as a threat and Trump's report is likely to stoke tensions with Moscow.
China has also alarmed the Pentagon with advances in super-fast "hypersonic" technology that could allow Beijing to field missiles that are far harder to detect.
In a report earlier this week that singled out the hypersonic threat, the Pentagon said China's military was "on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world."
"In some areas, it already leads the world," the report said.