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.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail