WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea’s top three military officials have been removed from their posts, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday, as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepare to meet on June 12 in Singapore.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was commenting on a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that all three of the North’s top military officials were believed to have been replaced.
Trump on Friday revived the summit after canceling it a week earlier. The United States is seeking a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
U.S. officials believe there was some dissension in the military about Kim’s approaches to South Korea and the United States.
The U.S. official did not identify the three military officials. Yonhap identified them as defense chief Pak Yong Sik; Ri Myong Su, chief of the Korean People’s Army’s (KPA) general staff; and Kim Jong Gak, director of the KPA’s General Political Bureau.
Trump wants North Korea to “denuclearize,” meaning to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, in return for relief from economic sanctions. North Korea’s leadership is believed to regard nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival.
Citing an unnamed intelligence official, Yonhap said No Kwang Chol, first vice minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, had replaced Pak Yong Sik as defense chief, while Ri Myong Su was replaced by his deputy, Ri Yong Gil.
The White House, State Department, CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to requests for official comment.
South Korea’s unification and defense ministries declined to confirm the report, while an official at the Unification Ministry said the government was watching the leadership situation in the North very closely.
All of the newly promoted officials are younger than their predecessors, according to Yonhap, especially Ri Yong Gil, 63, who is 21 years younger than Ri Myong Su.
“This points to two things: the consolidation of Kim Jong Un’s power as the sole leader of North Korea and strengthened cooperation between the North’s party and military as the country works towards further economic development,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“They’re all young but capable people,” Yang added.
Army General Kim Su Gil’s replacement of Kim Jong Gak as director of the KPA’s General Political Bureau was confirmed in a North Korean state media report last month when Kim Su Gil accompanied North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on a field guidance trip to a beach tourist zone with other officials.
Lower-level U.S.-North Korean talks to prepare for the summit are continuing but have made only “halting progress,” according to a second U.S. official briefed on the discussions.
That official said U.S. negotiators’ efforts to press for definitions of immediate, comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea had run into opposition from the White House.
In a remarkable shift in tone eight days after canceling the summit, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility,” Trump welcomed North Korea’s former intelligence chief, Kim Yong Chol, to the White House on Friday, afterward exchanging smiles and handshakes.
(This version of the story has been refiled to fix typographical error in spelling of analyst’s name in paragraph 11)
(Reporting by John Walcott in Washington; Additional reporting by Christine Kim in Seoul; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Trump Says He’ll Make a ‘Major Announcement’ Saturday Afternoon About Shutdown, Border
Trump Administration Separated Thousands More Migrants Than Previously Known
The Trump Administration separated thousands more migrant kids from their families at the border than it previously acknowledged, and the separations started months before the policy was announced, according to a federal audit released Thursday morning.
“More children over a longer period of time” were separated at the border than commonly known, an investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office told reporters Thursday morning.
“How many more children were separated is unknown, by us and HHS” because of failures to track families as they were being separated, he said.
HHS officials involved in caring for the separated children and reunifying families estimated “thousands” of additional children are separated at the border, the inspector general said.
The report sheds new light on the Trump administration’s efforts to deter border crossings by separating migrant families. House Democrats who’ve condemned the separations as inhumane have vowed to investigate the administration’s handling of the policy and its health effects on separated children, and the inspector general said additional investigations are in the works.
The inspector general report said some family separations continued, even after President Donald Trump in June 2018 ended the policy amid uproar and a federal court ordered his administration to reunify the families. The June 2018 court order called on the administration to reunify about 2,500 separated children in government custody. Most of those families were reunited within 30 days.
However, HHS received at least 118 separated children between July and early November, according to the report. DHS provided “limited” information about the reason for those separations. In slightly more than half of those cases, border officials cited the parent’s criminal history as a reason to separate the families, although they did not always provide details. The court order requiring reunifications said family separations should only occur if border officials could specify when parents posed possible dangers to children or were otherwise unfit to care for them, the inspector general noted.
Federal investigators said they had no details about how many of the “thousands of separated children” who entered the care of HHS before the June 2018 court order had been reunited.
“We have no information about the status of the children who were released prior to the court order,” Maxwell told reporters. [POLITICO]
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