North Korea ambassador to Italy ‘disappears’, says South

North Korea ambassador to Italy 'disappears', says South
Jo Song-gil was the top envoy at North Korea’s embassy in Rome

South Korea’s spy agency has told officials that North Korea’s ambassador to Italy has disappeared.

The announcement follows unconfirmed reports that Pyongyang’s top diplomat in Italy had sought asylum from an unidentified Western country.

Jo Song-gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, is the son and son-in-law of high-ranking North Korean officials.

The last senior diplomat to defect was the deputy ambassador in London.

Thae Yong-ho abandoned his post in 2016, along with his wife and children. He defected to South Korea.

As one of the highest-ranking officials to ever defect from the North, his move was seen as a blow to Kim Jong-un’s regime. He would go on to urge the world to spread information in North Korea to undermine Mr Kim’s status among his people.

Speaking after a briefing from the spy agency on Thursday, Kim Min-ki, a government MP, told reporters that Mr Jo fled the Rome embassy more than a month ago.

“Acting ambassador Jo Song-gil’s term was ending in late November last year and he escaped the diplomatic compound in early November,” the MP said.

South Korean’s National Intelligence Service, which interrogates all defectors from the North, told lawmakers they had not had any contact from him since then. The agency would not confirm that he is trying to defect to another country.

Mr Jo’s wife is believed to be with him.

Italy’s foreign ministry has told the BBC that it has no record of an asylum request made by Mr Jo.

Diplomatic sources said the last Italy heard of him was when officials received a note last year from the North Korean government saying that Mr Jo was being replaced.

South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo has reported that Mr Jo is in a “safe place” with his family, citing a diplomatic source.

US-North Korea Summit: Kim Jong-un arrives in Singapore

US-North Korea Summit: Kim Jong-un arrives in SingaporeNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un has arrived in Singapore for his scheduled summit meeting with US President Donald Trump.

The historic meeting between the two leaders will take place at the island resort of Sentosa on Tuesday.

It is the first time a North Korean leader has met a sitting US president.

Before setting off, Mr Trump described the summit as a “one-time shot” at peace and said the two were in “unknown territory in the truest sense”.

The US president will arrive later on Sunday.

Washington hopes the summit will kick-start a process that eventually sees Mr Kim give up his nuclear weapons.

The two leaders have had an extraordinary up-and-down relationship over the past 18 months, trading insults and threatening war before abruptly changing tack and moving towards a face-to-face meeting.

Both leaders will meet Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong before their summit.

Donald Trump hails CIA chief Mike Pompeo’s secret trip to N Korea

Donald Trump hails CIA chief Mike Pompeo's secret trip to N KoreaCIA director Mike Pompeo forged a “good relationship” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when they met last week, US President Donald Trump has tweeted.

Confirming media reports of the secret meeting in Pyongyang, Mr Trump said it had gone “very smoothly”.

The surprise visit marks the highest-level contact between the United States and North Korea since 2000.

Mr Trump is expected to hold a summit with Mr Kim by June. Details are being worked out, the US president said.

South Korea has also signalled that it may pursue a formal resolution of the longstanding conflict on the peninsula. President Moon Jae-in and Mr Kim are due to meet next week.

The US president earlier gave his “blessing” for the talks between the South and North to discuss a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War.

What do we know about the ‘secret meeting’?

The news that Mr Pompeo had travelled to North Korea for a clandestine meeting with Mr Kim was first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.

The trip took place after Mr Pompeo was nominated by Mr Trump to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, sources told the newspaper.

Later, Reuters news agency carried a similar report. Early on Wednesday, Mr Trump confirmed the news with a tweet.

Very little is known about the talks other than that they were to prepare for the forthcoming Trump-Kim summit.

Mr Pompeo is predicted to be confirmed as the top US diplomat by the Republican-controlled Senate in the coming weeks.

How do the US and North Korea communicate?

The US does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, although diplomats have visited in the past and so-called “back channels” are used to communicate with Pyongyang.

The last senior US official to meet a North Korean leader was Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state when she travelled to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader.