North Korea’s three top military officials have been removed from their posts, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, leaving analysts scrambling to explain what it means ahead of this month’s summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Citing intelligence sources, Yonhap claimed Monday that defense chief Pak Yong Sik and Ri Myong Su, chief of the Korean People's Army general staff, were both replaced, as was Kim Jong Gak, the director of the army’s political wing, although his exit was announced by North Korean state media last month. The three critical positions have reportedly been taken by younger men known within the regime as Kim loyalists.
Reuters, citing an unnamed U.S. official, later confirmed the reports, which could be an effort to consolidate Kim’s power ahead of the Trump summit in Singapore, scheduled for June 12. Reports last month suggested Kim was concerned that a military coup d’état would overthrow him while he was at the meeting in Southeast Asia.
The historic summit between the two leaders had looked in doubt after Trump canceled the sit-down in late May, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” from Pyongyang. However, the White House reversed that decision last week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and later Trump met with North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in New York and Washington to discuss the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Yet further complications could lie ahead for the summit over who picks up the bill. Citing two unnamed sources dealing with logistics for the meeting, The Washington Post reported Friday that Pyongyang was reluctant to pay for Kim and his delegation, especially as the despot had demanded a suite at the Fullerton Hotel, which offers five-star luxury for $6,000 a night.
The regime was no doubt hoping Washington would pick up the tab, but State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert Saturday ruled that out.
"We are not paying for the DPRK delegation and we are not asking others to do so," she said in a statement.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons over the weekend reportedly offered to pay North Korea’s hotel costs for the summit, using cash it received for its 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
Cover image: In this photo provided on Thursday, May 18, 2018, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a meeting of the 7th central military commission at an undisclosed place in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)