Washington: United States Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said on Friday that Washington is looking into reports that North Korea executed a senior official after Kim Jong-un and Trump were unable to reach an agreement during their Hanoi summit in February this year.
“We’ve seen the reporting … we’re doing our best to check it out,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a press conference in Berlin, as cited by CNN. “We’re doing our best to check it out. I don’t have anything else to add to that today,” he added.
The matter pertains to a report published in South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo on Friday that North Korea’s special envoy to the US, Kim Hyok-chol, was executed by Pyongyang in March on charges of “being recruited by US imperialists and betraying the supreme leader.”
During the Hanoi summit, Honk-chol had led negotiations with the US special representative to North Korea, along with being in charge of the working-level talks with his American counterparts.
The report also said Kim Yong-chol, a top aide to the leader and Pompeo’s counterpart in negotiations, was sent to a remote province for hard labour, Yonhap news agency reported.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to comment on the report, but did say the US is “monitoring the situation.”
“I’m not going to comment on intelligence one way or another. I can tell you that we’re monitoring the situation and continuing to stay focused on our ultimate goal, which is denuclearization,” Sanders told reporters here.
While the details reported by Chosun remain unconfirmed, experts acknowledge that it is certainly plausible to think Kim Jong Un could have carried out a possible purge of this nature.
“There’s certainly plenty of evidence — both in Kim’s recent past, and North Korean history — of purging officials when things don’t work out the way that the leader needs, or when there are potential concerns about different factions within the government and the elite,” said Lindsey Ford of the Asia Society Policy Institute, who is also a former Pentagon adviser for Asian and Pacific Security.
“Trump can talk about how he and Kim are on the same page … because they are buds, but (Kim) is a dictator who, in the past, has executed people close to him: his brother, his uncle — and he’s not afraid to do it again,” Ford added.
President Trump and Kim Jong-un met in Hanoi on February 27 and 28 with hopes of signing a deal that sees Pyongyang stop missile testing and getting economic sanctions in return. However, “no agreement was reached” as the summit was abruptly concluded, and a signing ceremony, as well as working lunch, was cancelled.
North Korea had sought partial relief in sanctions at the summit in Vietnam, according to Pyongyang’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. The US, however, has held on to its stand to ease sanctions only when the complete denuclearization is reached.