North Korea turns to diplomats after Kim sidelines point man in nuclear talks
SEOUL (Reuters) – The demotion of Kim Yong Chol, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s point man for nuclear talks with the United States, signals that long-time diplomats who had been sidelined from the process will return to centre-stage, diplomatic sources in Seoul and regional experts said.
The hawkish former general and spymaster was recently removed from a key party post, taking the fall for the failed Hanoi summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
Kim Yong Chol remains a formidable force in Pyongyang but there is no word whether he has been given a new role in the ultra-secretive North Korean power structure. He did not accompany Kim Jong Un to Russia this week for a summit with President Vladimir Putin, the North Korean leader’s first international foray since his Hanoi meeting with Trump in February ended in disarray.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his deputy, Choe Son Hui, flanked the North Korean leader at the meeting in Vladivostok, including riding in his car, a highly unusual display of proximity.
“The Hanoi summit damaged the North’s long-held principle that its leader never makes an error, so they have to shift the blame,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul, referring to Kim Yong Chol’s demotion.
“This may not mean an immediate shift in their U.S. strategy, but the diplomats will likely take the initiative to contain the fallout from Hanoi and promote diplomacy with various countries.”
Kim Yong Chol was beside Kim through the last 12 months, including for his three meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, two with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the two Trump summits, in Singapore and Hanoi.
But for those who have known him as a hardline military general, Kim Yong Chol never seemed comfortable with the art of negotiating the roll back of his country’s nuclear programme in exchange for concessions from the United States.
Kim avoided getting into details at negotiating sessions, instead leaving it to diplomats to build strategy, two diplomatic sources in Seoul familiar with the North’s diplomatic engagements said.
Even then, he refused to yield control, one of the sources said.
“Whether or not he understood the issues, he kept a tight grip on the negotiations. It seemed like: ‘Over my dead body I’m going to let Ri Yong Ho take over,’” the source said, referring to the North’s foreign minister.
North Korea considering suspending nuclear talks with US: TASS
Earlier, North Korea is considering suspending nuclear talks with the United States, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said on Friday, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
North Korea has no intention to yield to US demands or engage in negotiations of this kind, Choe told a press conference in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, TASS reported.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is set to make an official announcement soon on his position regarding talks with United States, TASS reported, citing Choe.