Kim Yong Chol: N. Korean leader's hawkish right-hand man

Jun 02, 2018, 01:07
Kim Yong Chol: N. Korean leader's hawkish right-hand man

South Korean media say a senior North Korean official is heading to the United States, potentially to participate in preparatory negotiations to set up a possible meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

This week's talks are aimed at determining whether North Korea is prepared to make sufficient commitments toward getting rid of its nuclear weapons, a US official said, despite Pyongyang's insistence it will not unilaterally denuclearize.

"We absolutely oppose a visit to the South by Kim Yong-chol, the main culprit of the Cheonan's sinking", said Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the opposition Liberty Korea Party.

"Solid response to my letter, thank you!" tweeted Trump.

The former spy chief's current official position is vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Worker's Party of Korea, but he rose to prominence as Pyongyang's chief military negotiator during inter-Korean talks between 2006 and 2008.

But since he sent the letter, Trump has suggested a summit in Singapore could still happen.

Pompeo's meeting with Kim Yong Chol and the series of discussions this week between United States and North Korean officials are the most substantive indication yet that the summit is still in the works despite Trump's letter to Kim Jong Un last Thursday canceling the summit.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in could also be going to Singapore next month for a three-way summit with his USA and North Korean counterparts, a government official in Seoul said on Monday.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the American officials including Sung Kim, the USA ambassador to Manila, were heading to the border village between the two Koreas, where they met with North Korean officials on Sunday. Shortly afterward, however, the U.S. president said that he was still open to meeting with the North Korean leader.

Clinton eventually visited North Korea as a former president in 2009 to secure the freedom of two detained American journalists.

Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to confirm that the official, Kim Yong Chol, was on his way to the US.

North Korea does not intend to give up nuclear weapons, but is considering a new American-style business venture, a new USA intelligence assessment said.

When Kim Chang Son was asked by a reporter at Beijing airport if he was flying to Singapore for talks with the United States, he said he was "going there to play", according to Nippon Television Network.

After North Korean officials, including Choe, lashed out at Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton, Trump abruptly announced that he was canceling the talks, citing North Korea's "tremendous anger".

Human rights abuses in North Korea, including violations of religious freedom, are a "matter of discussion" ahead of the planned summit, Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for worldwide religious freedom, said on Tuesday.

Due to sanctions against him, Kim Yong Chol is banned from visiting the United States.

Their second meeting came after inter-Korean relations had chilled in recent weeks, with North Korea canceling a high-level meeting with Seoul over South Korea's participation in a two-week military exercise with the United States that ended last week. His visit to the United States would indicate a waiver was granted.

Analysts believe Washington is trying to determine whether North Korea is willing to agree on sufficient steps towards denuclearisation to allow a summit to take place. "This will be our last missile", Kim reportedly told Albright at the time, in an apparent reference to a medium-range ballistic missile the North fired over Japan two years earlier, which stunned the region.

Trump confirmed Tuesday that Kim was to hold talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

North Korea vehemently denies any involvement in the torpedoing of the ship, in which 46 sailors died. Since then, North Korea has rejected USA demands for it to unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons programme. He was linked by U.S intelligence to a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.