Sources: North Korea replaces key negotiator with U.S.

Sources: North Korea replaces key negotiator with U.S.

SEOUL--North Korea has replaced a key negotiator for U.S. relations with a veteran diplomat who was involved in the failed six-party talks on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, sources said.

Kim Hyok Chol, a former ambassador to Spain, Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries, has taken over the role of Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, according to the sources knowledgeable about U.S.-North Korea relations.

The move comes as arrangements are being made for a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

According to South Korean government sources, Kim Hyok Chol currently belongs to North Korea’s State Affairs Commission and has long been considered an experienced diplomat in the country’s foreign ministry.

Kim Yong Chol, a former military intelligence chief and one of Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, visited the United States in January along with Kim Hyok Chol. During a meeting, Kim Yong Chol informed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Kim Hyok Chol would be the new negotiator with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative to North Korea, the sources said.

Kim Hyok Chol was a negotiator in the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

On one occasion during the talks, Kim pointed out to U.S. government officials: “The United States is going to make a nuclear agreement with India, which is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). … It doesn’t make sense that the United States is demanding that we return to the NPT.”

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Jan. 24 that Kim Yong Chol and Kim Hyok Chol reported the results of their talks in the United States to Kim Jong Un. But Choe was not in attendance, despite having held talks with Biegun on Jan. 20 and 21 in Stockholm, after the two Kims’ trip to the United States.

Officials in Japan, the United States and South Korea do not believe that Choe has been fired, the sources said.

One source said she will work under Kim Yo Jong, who is Kim Jong Un’s younger sister and vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the ruling Workers’ Party.

In February 2018, Kim Yo Jong visited South Korea for talks with President Moon Jae-in. She also accompanied her brother to the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June 2018.

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