FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail