North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament is set to hold its key meeting this week amid attention over what messages it could unveil to South Korea and the United States ahead of its summits with them.
The sixth session of the 13th Supreme People's Assembly will be held Wednesday ahead of the April 27 summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kim is also set to meet US President Donald Trump later.
The SPA is the highest organ of state power under the constitution, but it actually rubber-stamps decisions by the ruling Workers' Party of Korea. It holds a plenary session every April to mainly deal with budgets and a cabinet personnel reshuffle.
This year's meeting is under the limelight due to a possibility that the repressive regime may send messages to the outside world ahead of the summits at an otherwise internal political event.
"The SPA meeting mainly handles the budget and personnel issues. But ahead of the summits, the SPA could express some backing to Kim Jong-un's willingness to improve ties with the South or seek a peace regime and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University.
This photo, carried by North Korea`s state news agency on April 10, 2018, shows a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers` Party of Korea a day earlier. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)
The summits come after more than a year of heightened tensions sparked by North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations. Kim and Trump exchanged bellicose rhetoric last year, raising fear of Washington's military actions against the North.
A mood for rapprochement was created on the Korean Peninsula with Kim's January decision to send athletes to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics held in February.
During Kim's surprise visit to China last month, he told President Xi Jinping that denuclearization hinges on Seoul and Washington's "progressive and synchronous" measures.
In several occasions, North Korea used the SPA meeting to clarify its stance on its nuclear programs.
At a parliamentary meeting in April 2012, the North stipulated in the preamble of its constitution that the country is a nuclear state.
The following year, the SPA adopted a law codifying its possession of nuclear weapons for self-defense and consolidating its status as a nuclear weapons state.
At a key party meeting held Monday, Kim made a "profound analysis and appraisal" of inter-Korean ties and prospects for North Korea-US dialogue, according to North Korea's state media.
Without elaborating, the leader set forth the ruling WPK's future policy of international relations and how to respond to them.
Experts are divided over whether North Korea will explicitly state a potential change in its stance toward its nuclear arsenal at the SPA session.
"I don't see North Korea mentioning denuclearization at the SPA meeting. This is the beginning of a journey with an uncertain future," said Ken Gause, a senior analyst at the US-based CNA Corp.
"It is not time to tell the North Korean people about a fundamental change in policy that would invalidate the Byungjin policy," he added, referring to the policy that seeks both nuclear and economic development.
But Kim Yeon-chul, a professor at Inje University, said no North Korean media reports mentioned the fifth anniversary of adopting the Byungjin policy that fell on March 31.
"The North appears to hope to resolve the nuclear issue in a phased and simultaneous manner. The SPA could unveil or adopt some relevant measures," he added.
As to the personnel reshuffle, experts said that the regime is likely to change officials at key posts of the State Affairs Commission and other organs to reflect the latest changes in the makeup of cabinet and military officials.
North Korea may replace Kim Yong-nam, the 90-year-old president of the SPA Presidium and the nominal head of state, to seek active diplomacy to improve relations with Seoul and Washington, according to Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.
Kim Jong-gak, a new director of the general political bureau of North Korea's armed forces, is expected to become vice chairman of the SAC, the post that was taken by his predecessor Hwang Pyong-so.
At last year's party meeting, Jong Kyong-thae replaced Kim Won-hong to become the chief of the State Security Ministry. At the SPA meeting, Jong is expected to be named one of eight members of the SAC, analysts say. (Yonhap)