FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Who Is Kim Yong-chol?

General Kim Yong-chol is arriving in New York to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization with top US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whom Kim has met twice. The meetings promise to be difficult because Kim has a reputation as a tough negotiator who is very familiar with intelligence and weapons issues. Kim may also have been behind the so-called Cheonan incident in 2010—the apparent torpedoing of a South Korean navy corvette that resulted in loss of 46 sailors. The US sanctioned Kim in 2014, reflecting the widespread belief, rejected by Pyongyang and Beijing, that North Korea was responsible for the sinking.

Kim Yong-chol has a long resume that reflects the breadth of his experience and the reasons Kim Jong-un chose him to represent North Korean interests at this crucial time before the planned Trump-Kim summit. Most importantly, Kim Yong-chol worked on intelligence for about thirty years, including as director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North Korean equivalent of the CIA. He also rose in the Korean Workers Party hierarchy, eventually becoming a vice-chair of the KWP Central Committee and a member of its important Military Affairs Commission.

But what may be most notable about Kim Yong-chol is that he has served—and survived—all three members of the Kim dynasty. Thus, Kim Jong-un clearly deems Kim Yong-chol entirely trustworthy. Moreover, Kim Yong-chol has extensive experience negotiating with the South Koreans, including the comprehensive 1992 North-South joint declaration that pledged both countries not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” and not to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” Most recently, Kim was among the North Korean leaders who met with South Koreans when they issued the Panmunjom Declaration on inter-Korean relations and the nuclear issue.

A fair assumption is that Kim Yong-chol will spell out the conditions under which North Korea would embrace “complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization,” the official US position. He will no doubt insist on establishing a step-by-step framework for dismantlement or, possibly, some other arrangement for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. And at each step, Kim presumably will want to know what the US is prepared to offer in the way of firm security assurances, starting with an official renunciation of the John Bolton “Libya model” that Pompeo has now invoked to deal with Iran. The New York meetings will therefore either pave the way for a substantive agreement at the summit in Singapore or become another roadblock to ever holding one.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
Jonathan Cook
Forget Trump’s Deal of the Century: Israel Was Always on Course to Annexation
Andrew Levine
The Biden Question
Stanley L. Cohen
From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Collapses 70 Years Early
Kenn Orphan
Normalizing Atrocity
Ajamu Baraka
No Dare Call It Austerity
Ron Jacobs
The Redemptive Essence of History
David Rosen
Is Socialism Possible in America?
Dave Lindorff
The US as Rogue Nation Number 1
Joseph Natoli
The Mad King in His Time
David Thorstad
Why I’m Skipping Stonewall 50
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail