Kim Jong Un has replaced several long-serving officials with younger loyalists ahead of his second summit with Donald Trump, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Diplomatic sources said the North Korean leader has excluded officials who served his father and grandfather.
Kim has also charged one of North Korea’s best-known officials with spying for the U.S., likely sending him to a labor camp or possibly executing him, according to the report.
One of those being promoted is Kim Hyok Chol, replacing Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as the lead negotiator with the U.S. ahead of the summit.
Kim Hyok Chol traveled to Hanoi Wednesday where he will meet with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun to discuss the meeting.
The purge of Choe was triggered in part by recent defections, including that of Jo Song Gil, Pyongyang’s acting ambassador in Rome, who went missing last December.
“It’s a big boys’ game and many diplomats are being neglected, as they face fierce interagency rivalry and questions about their ideological faithfulness given their experience in richer, capitalist nations,” a South Korean official told Reuters.
“Kim Hyok Chol is a career diplomat too, but he apparently has passed a loyalty test to become the point man in the negotiations.”
Han Song Ryol, who was vice foreign minister in charge of U.S. relations until early last year, has also been purged, charged with spying for the U.S. and accepting money in return.
Han was a key diplomatic conduit between Pyongyang and Washington until he returned home in 2013. He has not been seen in public for a year and was last mentioned by state-run North Korean media in February 2018.
A South Korean newspaper reported last month that Han was sent to a labor camp after making an unspecified proposal on the nuclear talks against the ruling Workers’ Party’s guidelines.
Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to Britain, who defected in 2016, told Reuters that Han’s expulsion likely meant he has been sent to a labor camp for reeducation or possibly execution.
With a week to go before Trump and Kim meet in Hanoi, negotiators from both sides are hammering out the final details of an expected joint declaration.
South Korea is hoping for something more concrete than the vague statement released after last year’s summit in Singapore.
President Moon Jae-In spoke with Trump Tuesday, putting out a statement that said the American leader “expressed his expectations that the North-U.S. summit would serve as a significant turning point to materialize complete denuclearization, peace regime on the peninsula and development in U.S.-North Korea relations.”
Trump was less enthusiastic when he spoke Tuesday, telling reporters that he has “no pressing time schedule” for North Korean denuclearization.
“I’m in no rush. As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal. But there has been no testing.”
Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks after watch the gymnastic and artistic performance at the May Day Stadium on September 19, 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool/Getty Images)