North Korea Executed and Purged Top Nuclear Negotiators, South Korean Report Says – The New York Times

Kim Hyok-chol was appointed as North Korea’s special envoy only weeks before the Hanoi summit meeting and had led pre-summit working-level negotiations with Stephen Biegun, Mr. Trump’s special envoy on North Korea.

Their negotiations could not narrow wide differences between their governments over the terms under which North Korea would give up its nuclear arsenal. As a consequence, Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met without a draft agreement, as the negotiators from both sides left it to their leaders to sort out the thorniest problems that have bedeviled negotiations for decades.

Kim Yong-chol, the Workers’ Party leader, has seemed to disappear from state news media in recent weeks. Although he retained some of his top posts during a parliamentary meeting in April, he was replaced as head of the United Front Department, a key party agency in charge of relations with South Korea and the North’s intelligence affairs.

Both Kim Hyok-chol and Kim Yong-chol were absent from the North Korean delegation when Kim Jong-un met last month with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. In their places were senior officials from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, like Minister Lee Yong-ho and First Vice Minister Choe Son-hui, who have emerged as the new faces of North Korean diplomacy.

Mr. Kim has said he will give Washington until the end of the year to make a new denuclearization proposal he can accept, or he may abandon his diplomacy with Mr. Trump. As if to press the point, North Korea has recently resumed tests of short-range missiles.

Even Kim Jong-il’s sister and adviser, Kim Yo-jong, did not accompany Mr. Kim to the meeting with Mr. Putin, although she has been a fixture in high-profile summit meetings with American, Chinese and South Korean leaders.

Chosun Ilbo said the sister may have been reprimanded by Mr. Kim or may be sick with pneumonia.

Jung Chang-hyun, head of the Korean Peace and Economy Institute, a research group affiliated with South Korea’s Moneytoday news media group, said he had heard that four North Korean Foreign Ministry officials were executed by firing squad around March, not because of the breakdown of the Hanoi summit meeting, but rather for a separate corruption scandal.

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