Reshuffle in Pyongyang hints at Kim’s summit plans

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Reshuffle in Pyongyang hints at Kim’s summit plans

North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature reshuffled the country’s powerful State Affairs Commission on Wednesday in apparent preparation for summits with leaders of South Korea and the United States.

Kim Jong-un, who has several titles as North Korea’s leader, will likely enter the talks as the commission’s chairman, a position he has held since 2016.

South Korean government officials said the personnel changes appeared to be part of Kim’s preparations for a summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27 and with U.S. President Donald Trump in late May or early June.

Reports from the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday indicated that the commission’s vice chairman positions were reduced from three to two, while the number of members was raised from eight to nine.

Kim did not attend the parliamentary meeting, against expectations that he might convey a message to Seoul and Washington at the meeting.

The North has held nine such meetings since Kim assumed power in December 2011 following his father’s death. During the meetings, the Supreme People’s Assembly makes critical decisions on government spending, law changes and personnel reshuffles at state agencies. Kim has appeared in six of the nine meetings.

The KCNA reported that Hwang Pyong-so, former director of the North Korean Army’s General Political Bureau, was stripped of his title as vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission and booted from the body.

Hwang disappeared from North Korean media in mid-October with no official announcement of his fate, but he re-emerged last February attending state events with other officials, fanning speculation that he was back in Kim’s circle albeit with a lower rank.

South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, believes he was fired from his director post at the Army’s General Politburo for “impure attitudes” toward Kim, which implies some form of disloyalty.

Kim Jong-gak, Hwang’s successor in the Army’s General Politburo, was named a member of the State Affairs Commission. A South Korean government official said Kim Jong-un might have felt Kim Jong-gak did have enough clout as Hwang had to be named vice chairman.

Also on Wednesday, North Korea celebrated the sixth anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s assumption to the top posts in the Workers’ Party and the North Korean government.

Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission and the Central Committee within the Workers’ Party, praised the leader in front of a crowd of senior government and military officials.

Conspicuously missing from his speech, which lasted about half an hour, was any mention of North Korea’s nuclear arms. Choe instead said Kim’s leadership had brought the country to a “strategic” position.

A senior South Korean government official said Thursday that Seoul was keeping notice of the omission, alluding to the possibility that Pyongyang might have decided to drop any direct mention of the word “nuclear” because it has agreed to hold talks with South Korea and the United States on possible denuclearization.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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