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N. Korea replaces top official involved in negotiations with US

A senior North Korean official, who served as Pyongyang’s chief interlocutor in talks with the United States, has been replaced as head of a key espionage agency handling inter-Korean affairs, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

Kim Yong-chol, chief of the United Front Department, was recently replaced by Jang Kum-chol, Rep. Lee Hye-hoon of the Bareunmirae Party, who leads the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, said, citing a source from Seoul’s spy agency. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)

Jang, who is barely known to the outside world, is reportedly in his late 50s and has a career of working for civilian exchanges between the two Koreas.

Kim was the North’s top negotiator in denuclearization talks with the United States. His US counterpart was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was unclear if his replacement as chief of the espionage agency affected his status as chief negotiator in talks with the US

Nuclear negotiations between the two countries have been stalled after February’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump ended without an agreement due to differences over Pyongyang’s denuclearization steps and Washington’s sanctions relief.

Kim Yong-chol’s absence in the leader’s entourage that arrived in Russia’s Far East city of Vladivostok later in the day for a summit with President Vladimir Putin raised speculation over his possible replacement from the post.

It is the first time that he has not accompanied the leader on an overseas trip.

Despite the replacement, observers say that Kim Yong-chol is expected to maintain his post as a vice chairman of the central committee of the North’s ruling party.

Recenlty, he and other nuclear negotiators, including First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, also became members of the State Affairs Commission to which Kim Jong-un was re-elected as chairman. (Yonhap)