Entourage from Pyongyang is a diverse groupNine key aides of Kim Jong-un will accompany the North Korean leader when he crosses the border today for a first-ever summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The delegation is a wide-ranging entourage of party loyalists, cabinet members and military officers that reflects Kim’s ambition to discuss multiple issues related to his country’s long-strained ties with South Korea.
Im Jong-seok, Moon’s chief of staff, told reporters on Thursday at the summit’s main press center in Goyang, Gyeonggi, that Kim Jong-un’s delegation would include Kim Yong-nam, the nominal head of state who serves as president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature; and Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party and director of the committee’s United Front Department.
Other high-ranking party members include Choe Hwi, vice chairman of the Central Committee who chairs the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission within the North’s powerful State Affairs Commission; Ri Su-yong, vice chairman of the Central Committee and director of the committee’s International Department, which handles foreign affairs; and Kim Yo-jong, first vice director of the Central Committee’s Propaganda and Agitation Department and Kim Jong-un’s younger sister.
Military officials include Ri Myong-su, chief of the Korean People’s Army’s General Staff, the equivalent of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Pak Yong-sik, minister of the people’s armed forces, who plays the role of defense minister.
Other cabinet members include Ri Yong-ho, minister of foreign affairs; and Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which handles relations with South Korea.
President Moon will be joined by seven other people: Im, his chief of staff; Kang Kyung-wha, minister of foreign affairs; Song Young-moo, minister of national defense; Cho Myoung-gyon, minister of unification, who handles relations with North Korea; Chung Eui-yong, head of the Blue House’s National Security Office; Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s spy agency; and Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Among North Korea’s delegation, five members visited South Korea last February for the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics that took place in Gangwon. During their stay in the South, they met Moon at the Blue House for lunch.
By contrast, during the previous two summits in 2000 and 2007, then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was only accompanied by Kim Yang-gon, secretary of the Workers’ Party in charge of South Korean relations, who died in a car accident in 2015.
Kim Jong-un’s decision to bring Ri Myong-su, chief of the Korean People’s Army’s General Staff, could mean both sides may discuss “demilitarizing” the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) demilitarized zone separating the two countries, an agenda item that the Blue House previously said it was interested in discussing with the North.
That process would require both sides to clear the area of all weapons, land mines and guard posts. South Korea operates around 60 guard posts within the demilitarized zone, and the North has around 160.
Im, Moon’s chief of staff, said Thursday that the Blue House did not expect the North Korean army chief to be on the list of delegates, but officials in Seoul believe this might mean Kim and his delegation are serious about dealing with issues related to denuclearization, easing tensions on the peninsula and establishing “permanent peace” after decades of ceasefire after the 1950-53 Korean War.
Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which handles relations with the South, led North Korea’s delegation at high-level meetings on Jan. 9 and March 29. Officials in Seoul believe Ri will mainly be in charge of improving inter-Korean relations, a key agenda item at today’s summit.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE CHUL-JAE [email@example.com]