All of North Korea’s three top military officials are believed to have been replaced, an intelligence source said Sunday, in a move that could be aimed at taming the military ahead of a denuclearization deal with the U.S.
No Kwang-chol, first vice minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, replaced Pak Yong-sik as defense chief, while Ri Myong-su, chief of the KPA’s general staff, was replaced by his deputy, Ri Yong-gil, according to the source.
These changes are in addition to Army Gen. Kim Su-gil’s replacement of Kim Jong-gak as director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army. The replacement was confirmed in a North Korean state media report last month.
Earlier in the day, a Japanese newspaper carried a similar report.
“The North appears to have brought in new figures amid the changes in inter-Korean relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula as the previous officials lacked flexibility in thinking,” the source said. “In particular, No Kwang-chol has been classified as a moderate person.”
The changes could also be aimed at taming the military because members of the armed forces could object to a denuclearization deal that leader Kim could make in the summit talks with U.S. President Donald Trump set for June 12 in Singapore.
The replacements may also represent a generational change, another intelligence source said.
U.S. and North Korean officials held working-level talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Monday for the third consecutive day to prepare for their summit slated for next week.
The meeting’s apparent purpose was last-stage negotiations over the agenda for the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, slated to take place in Singapore next Tuesday.
Sung Kim, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and former nuclear envoy, is leading the U.S. delegation while the North’s team is headed by Pyongyang’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. They met in the same place on May 27, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
The two sides are expected to focus on narrowing the gaps over how to achieve Pyongyang’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) and offer in return Washington’s security guarantee in the same CVI manner.
The two sides could also discuss the issue of declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
Trump has told reporters that he talked about “ending the war” during his meeting with Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the central committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, at the White House on Friday. Seoul has been pushing for a political declaration to end the war, possibly through a three-way summit among Moon, Trump and Kim.
Last Friday, Trump put the planned summit with Kim back on track after he canceled it on May 24, citing “open hostility” from the communist regime. The reversal came after a conciliatory gesture from Pyongyang and Seoul’s mediation.
Today a senior North Korean official arrived in Beijing on Sunday on his way back home from a rare trip to the United States that included a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the central committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, landed at Beijing’s Capital International Airport around 8 p.m. on an Air China flight from New York.
Kim is expected to spend the night at the North’s Embassy in Beijing before heading home on Monday.
Sources said that Kim could meet with Chinese officials before departing for home to brief them on the results of his meetings with U.S. officials.
While in the U.S., Kim held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York to discuss preparations for the upcoming summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un set for June 12 in Singapore.
The North Korean official then headed to Washington and paid a visit to Trump at the White House on Friday and delivered a personal letter from the North’s leader. He was the highest North Korean official to visit the U.S. in 18 years.