April 11, 2018 13:57
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un chaired a meeting of the Politburo of the Workers Party on Monday, apparently to bring the elite into line ahead of summits with South Korea and the U.S.
The official [North] Korean Central News Agency published three photos of the meeting on Tuesday. One shows Kim and seven senior members at a roundtable. The other, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, is visiting Russia. Six other members sit in the back row alongside about a dozen candidate members.
Conspicuously, Kim Yong-chol, the chief of the United Front Department, sits in the back row, despite being a full member.
"This suggests that Kim Yong-chol doesn't rank within the top 10 in the party yet," said a defector who used to be a senior official in the North.
The Politburo, the top apparatus that organizes and guides all party affairs, consists of presidium members and full members, who have voting rights, and candidate members, who constitute a quorum but do not have voting rights.
It meets at every major turning point. On Dec. 30, 2011 after former leader Kim Jong-il's death a fortnight earlier, it elected Kim Jong-un supreme commander.
A meeting on July 15, 2012 decided to dismiss Army chief Ri Yong-ho, and another on Dec. 8, 2013 decided to strip Jang Song-taek, the eminence grise and Kim Jong-un's uncle, of all posts.
On Monday, Kim called the upcoming inter-Korean summit "a reunion and talks between North-South Korean leaders" and a Washington-Pyongyang summit "[North] Korea-U.S. dialogue," using subtly different terms for the two.
"It seems that the North is confident about the success of the inter-Korean summit but uncertain about the meeting with the U.S.," a government official here speculated.
North Korean Foreign Ministry officials who took part in a so-called 1.5 track meeting with academics and officials in Helsinki last month said they were unsure whether the summit with U.S. President Donald Trump will really happen.
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