Who Is Kim Yong-chol? | Mel Gurtov

General Kim Yong-chol is arriving in New York to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization with top U.S. 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 U.S. 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 30 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

More in Opinion

Blue Wave Meets Red Wall: Split decision for a Divided Nation | Dick Polman

Charles Dickens wrote this about the French Revolution: “It was the best… Continue reading

The Issues That Won’t Go Away | Robert C. Koehler

How much real change manifested itself in the 2018 midterms? How deeply… Continue reading

Dogs Get Their Day in Florida Voting | Peter Funt

FORT MYERS, Florida - Amid the brouhaha over senate and gubernatorial voting,… Continue reading

Hillary Clinton’s Defeat Became a Pink Wave | Matthew Johnson

This year Cambridge Scholar Publishers issued a book edited by Barry University… Continue reading

Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections | Rob Okun

Since Donald Trump’s selection as president two years ago, a growing movement… Continue reading

In remembrance: Stan Lee

Cartoonists from around the world penned tributes this week to Stan Lee,… Continue reading

Paying public officials what they are worth | Letter to the editor

To the editor: In the Oct. 5, 2018 edition of the Islander,… Continue reading

Bainbridge council is making a short-sighted choice | Letter to the editor

To the editor: I just returned home from my volunteer job at… Continue reading

The Coin of the Realm | Lee H. Hamilton

Debate in Congress has always been contentious. The levels of vitriol may… Continue reading

Most Read