Ahead of United States summit, North Korea fires military leadership

Hugh Fox
June 4, 2018

South Korea is monitoring developments in the North's armed forces, it said Monday after reports Pyongyang replaced three of its top military officials ahead of a summit with the United States.

A senior USA official confirmed to Reuters that the three leaders had been ousted.

Would Trump or Kim be staying in the same hotels attendees were staying in - would they be eating from the same buffet breakfasts?

Last month, North Korea interrupted the détente that had been developing on the peninsula by cancelling high level talks with South Korea and publishing vitriolic attacks against the USA in state media.

Whether such projects will amount to anything hinges on whether the Trump-Kim meeting even takes place next week in Singapore.

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Eight days after cancelling the summit citing Pyongyang's "hostility", Trump announced the decision to go ahead with the meeting after hosting Kim's envoy in the White House, saying he expected "very positive result" with North Korea.

Since the North signalled at the start of this year that it was open to a rapprochement with the South, with which it is still technically at war, Mr Kim has met Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korea's Moon Jae-in and has floated a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin this year.

The Trump administration when initially canceling the summit had cited Pyongyang's refusal to agree to the "unilateral" surrender of its nuclear arsenal.

There were also widespread reports that North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear plant that was destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2007.

Given the military's secondary role in the North's nuclear and missile programmes, the moves are likely more about installing a younger, even more trusted cohort of officials who Kim Jong Un can rely on as he confronts a variety of domestic and worldwide issues, said Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University´s 38 North website. North Korea's leadership is believed to regard nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival.

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'The nuclear weapons are a side issue, ' he said. It's also not clear how long the talks will last.

To underscore the challenges in following North Korean affairs, the Yonhap agency reported erroneously in February 2016 that Ri Yong Gil had been executed as part of high-level purges.

The officials' replacements are younger than their predecessors, according to Yonhap. "North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearisation", Mattis added.

"Japan, Korea and the USA continue to agree that pressure is needed to be applied on North Korea", Onodera told reporters after his meeting with Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue.

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