Thu, Apr 12, 2018 - Page 6 News List

North Korean parliament convenes to pass agenda

RUBBER-STAMP:While the meetings of the Supreme People’s Assembly are usually brief, this year’s session was being closely watched ahead of the Kim-Trump summit

AP, TOKYO

North Korea’s parliament was scheduled to convene yesterday amid a series of diplomatic moves by leader Kim Jong-un that could have a major impact on the direction the nation takes in the months and possibly years ahead.

Meetings of the full Supreme People’s Assembly are usually brief, once-a-year affairs intended to approve budgets, formalize personnel changes and rubber-stamp Kim’s policy priorities.

However, this year’s session was being watched more closely because it was to begin just two weeks before Kim is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and as Pyongyang and Washington are working out the details of a summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump later this month or in early June.

Kim just completed his first summit, with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Beijing last month. His minister of foreign affairs, Wang Yi (王毅), is currently in Moscow, reportedly exploring the possibility of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kim’s seemingly sudden switch from launching missiles at a record pace last year to exploring dialogue has generally been welcomed, but questions remain over how willing he might be to make serious compromises on his nuclear weapons program in return for security guarantees and the lifting of economic sanctions that are taking a big bite out of his country’s economy.

Pyongyang has been careful not to reveal its hand.

The first significant news of the overtures in its official media came this week, when they reported that Kim laid out his plans for dialogue with South Korea and the US at a pre-assembly gathering of top ruling party officials on Monday.

However, even those reports were cautious: Trump was not mentioned by name and Kim was said to have talked about the “prospect” of dialogue with Washington.

It was not immediately clear what was on the agenda for the assembly or how much of it would be made public.

State media, which only announced the date of the assembly session last month, do not generally report about the meetings until they are over.

Foreign media in Pyongyang were not allowed to cover the session independently.

The assembly, which has had 686 members since the most recent elections in 2014, generally holds one and sometimes two sessions each year.

It is headed by Kim Yong-nam, the North’s 90-year-old senior statesman who accompanied Kim’s sister to South Korea in February for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

He has been the head of the assembly since 1998, and although he seems to be in good health, speculation that he may retire has been circulating for years.

The assembly is technically the highest organ of state power under the North’s constitution. In practice, it mainly serves to formalize whatever decisions and policies that are put before it.

However, it is an important means of keeping the deputies updated and informed of national priorities so that they can in turn pass that information on to their districts.

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