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Ex-spy or genteel diplomat? North Korea’s choices for nuclear talks with Pompeo

SEOUL (Reuters) – Two of North Korean chief Kim Jong Un’s closest aides – a former navy intelligence chief and the nation’s international minister – are being talked of because the almost certainly candidates to barter with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on denuclearization.

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Whether Kim will plump for his hardline former spy chief Kim Yong Chol or genteel profession diplomat, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, might present a clue on what strategy Pyongyang will take on the talks, political analysts and consultants on North Korea stated.

Kim Jong Un vowed in a joint assertion at Tuesday’s historic summit in Singapore with U.S. President Donald Trump to work for denuclearization, and Trump promised safety ensures for North Korea in alternate.

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They supplied few particulars, and agreed to carry talks “at the earliest possible date” to implement the outcomes of the summit with Pompeo main the U.S. aspect. But the assertion didn’t specify his North Korean counterpart by title, saying it might be a “relevant, high-level” official.

That would limit the doable candidates to a handful of males trusted by Kim inside North Korea’s extremely opaque management circle.

Both Kim Yong Chol and Ri accompanied Kim Jong Un to Singapore for the summit and have been seated with him on the desk throughout talks that included the 2 delegations.

Kim Yong Chol’s center-stage presence earlier than and throughout the current thaw between the 2 Koreas and Pyongyang and Washington point out he is likely one of the strongest, closest aides of the younger chief.

But he has mainly dealt with inter-Korean relations, somewhat than nuclear points, which have largely been dealt with by the international ministry.

“The absence of the North Korean name in the joint statement, despite the role that Kim Yong Chol has played so far, could mean Kim Jong Un is agonizing over whether he should now charge diplomats to do the job,” stated Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow on the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.


Kim Yong Chol, 72, is a four-star normal, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, and director of the United Front Department, which is cost of inter-Korean ties.

He visited Trump in Washington in late May, and has met Pompeo 4 instances, twice in Pyongyang, as soon as in New York after which throughout the summit.

“Kim should be the most likely partner of Pompeo, having worked with him before and knowing well about what Kim Jong Un wants,” stated Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea management knowledgeable on the Sejong Institute south of Seoul.

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FILE PHOTO: Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan meets North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this handout picture equipped by the Ministy of Foreign Affairs, June 11, 2018. Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout by way of REUTERS/File Photo

Kim Yong Chol has spent almost 30 years within the intelligence neighborhood, together with a stint as chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s predominant spy company.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted him for supporting the North’s weapons applications in 2010 and 2016, respectively.

Seoul accused him of masterminding lethal assaults on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. He was additionally linked by U.S. intelligence to a devastating cyber assault on Sony Pictures in 2014.

North Korea denied any involvement in any of the incidents.

A hawkish military commander, he has steered a sequence of inter-Korean navy talks because the late 1980s.

He was “best at pressing and humiliating” his opponents throughout negotiations, in keeping with a retired South Korean diplomat who met him. In 2014, he “stormed out of the room” throughout navy talks when the South demanded an apology for the 2010 assaults, stated former South Korean navy officers concerned within the assembly.

“He’s known as a hard-liner, as much as Pompeo in Washington, but both people are realists who can make a compromise if necessary,” Cheong stated.


In distinction, Ri Yong Ho is seen as a genteel, soft-spoken profession diplomat who’s well mannered and humorous however may also be powerful with sharp debating abilities.

He referred to as Trump “President Evil” on the U.N. General Assembly final 12 months, however such rhetoric is often out of character for him, in keeping with former counterparts and colleagues.

A fluent English speaker, the 62-year-old Ri has held quite a few high-level posts dealing with the West, together with as envoy to the now defunct six-party talks aimed toward dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear applications.

Following a uncommon social gathering congress in 2016, Ri was appointed international minister and promoted to the social gathering’s politburo, the opaque, omnipotent social gathering organ the place high state affairs are determined. It was the primary time in 20 years profession diplomat was named to the politburo, Cheong stated.

“It would be reasonable for the foreign ministry that has professional expertise and experiences to take over nuclear talks,” stated Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean consultant to the six-party talks.

“The summit’s joint statement simply heralded the start of working-level negotiations, where all key, complex issues will be discussed, including the timeline of the North’s dismantlement, its verification and corresponding U.S. action.”

Another potential negotiator is Ri Su Yong, a former international minister who’s at the moment accountable for worldwide affairs on the social gathering.

While serving as ambassador to Switzerland, the 78-year-old Ri oversaw the younger Kim’s European training, which helped him earn the belief of the chief, however he’s seen as an extended shot in comparison with the opposite two.

A senior South Korean official, who spoke on situation of anonymity, stated the candidate chosen could possibly be an element within the strategy to the negotiations, however not in North Korea’s place.

“Whoever sits at the negotiating table, any solid, specific decision on denuclearization would be made by Kim Jong Un himself,” he stated.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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