Tue, Jun 04, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Top North Korean official surfaces days after ‘purge’

‘HASTY JUDGEMENTS’:Many experts in South Korea believe experienced foreign ministry officials are likely to take the lead in North Korea’s talks with Washington


A news program broadcast at Seoul Railway Station in South Korea yesterday shows the image of senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol, right, attending a musical performance alongside North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday in Pyongyang.

Photo: AP

A senior North Korean official who had been reported as purged over the failed nuclear summit with Washington was shown in state media on Monday enjoying a concert near North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korean publications on Monday showed Kim Yong-chol sitting five seats away from a clapping Kim Jong-un in the same row along with other top officials during a musical performance by the wives of Korean People’s Army officers.

Kim Yong-chol has been North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator and the counterpart of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo since Kim Jong-un entered nuclear talks with the US early last year. He traveled to Washington and met with US President Donald Trump twice before Kim Jong-un’s two summits with Trump.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo last week cited an unidentified source to report that Kim Yong-chol had been sentenced to hard labor and ideological re-education over the failed summit in Hanoi.

The newspaper also reported that senior envoy Kim Hyok-chol, who was involved in pre-summit working-level talks with US officials, was executed with four other officials from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs for betraying Kim Jong-un after being won over by the US.

South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, has said that it could not confirm Friday’s report of a possible purge, while the presidential Blue House cautioned against “hasty judgements or comments.”

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said that Kim Yong-chol, who is rumored to have health problems, would not have appeared in public this quickly if he was undergoing political re-education.

It would not make sense for Kim Jong-un to execute Kim Hyok-chol when Kim Yong-chol, the more senior official, would be seen as more responsible for the failure in Hanoi, Chang said.

Kim Yong Chol’s rise during the nuclear negotiations had baffled many North Korea watchers because he handled South Korea ties, not international or US relations.

Many experts in South Korea believe that experienced foreign ministry officials, such as North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho and North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui are likely to take the lead in North Korea’s nuclear diplomacy, as it prepares for the possibility of protracted and highly complicated negotiations with Washington.

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