February 23, 2018 09:37
North Korea plans to send the mastermind of the 2010 sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The North on Thursday said Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Workers Party Central Committee, will head a high-level delegation to the ceremony on Sunday. But Kim has been blacklisted by the U.S. and is concurrently the head of the United Front Department in charge of the regime's agitation against South Korea.
As the former chief of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, he masterminded a series of provocations against South Korea, including the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.
Kim will be accompanied by Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, and six others. Ri also attended the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
Opposition parties and the families of the victims of the Cheonan are furious that the South is to roll out the red carpet for a man they blame for the death of 46 South Korean soldiers.
Cheong Wa Dae says no mastermind behind the torpedo attack was positively identified by an international investigation at the time.
"Kim Yong-chol is on a U.S. sanctions blacklist and our own financial sanctions blacklist," a senior presidential official told reporters. "But we're going to welcome him because he's coming to attend the closing ceremony for a successful Olympics. We told Washington about this matter and are now discussing it with U.S. officials."
President Moon Jae-in is expected to meet the North Korean delegation at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday after the Olympics close. The official said Moon will meet the North Korean delegation "under natural circumstances."
But Cheong Wa Dae said Kim is unlikely to come in contact with U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, who also attends the closing ceremony.
Meanwhile, Cheong Wa Dae admitted that National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon played a key role in the latest inter-Korean contacts. "It's inevitable for the NIS to play a part in unofficial contacts with the North," another presidential official said. "Suh will be the counterpart" of North Korean spymaster Kim Yong-chol.
Also in Thursday, it emerged that Cheong Wa Dae had arranged a meeting between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong on Feb. 10, but the North pulled out at the last minute.
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