July 01, 2019 12:28
Sunday's impromptu summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump revealed a major reshuffle in the North Korean team of negotiators, confirming rumors that previous negotiators were purged after the failed summit in Hanoi in February.
Conspicuous by their absence were Kim Yong-chol, Kim Jong-un's former right-hand man who laid the groundwork for the Hanoi summit, his key aide Kim Song-hye from the United Front Department, as well as chief nuclear negotiator Kim Hyok-chol.
Instead, Kim Jong-un was accompanied by Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Minister Choe Son-hui.
That confirms what many suspected, that Kim Yong-chol's United Front Department has been sidelined in favor of the Foreign Ministry.
Kim even had a new interpreter, a man with glasses who is said to be a Foreign Ministry staffer. He has frequently been spotted when high-ranking U.S. officials visited North Korea, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in August 2010.
Shin Hye-yong, who interpreted for Kim in Hanoi, is said to have been purged for a number of mistakes she made.
Instead of Kim's sister Yo-jong, who shadowed her brother in Hanoi, Hyon Song-wol of the Workers Party Central Committee took charge of protocol, although she was on hand in the background.
On the U.S. side, Trump confirmed that the new negotiating team will be no different from the old one, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in charge and Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun in harness.
"The fact that the U.S. did not respond to North Korea's persistent demand to replace Pompeo shows that the big framework of the U.S. policy will be unchanged," a pundit here said.
The presence of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at Sunday's meet could hint at more involvement from the Treasury, perhaps overseeing implementation of sanctions.
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