UPDATE: June 3 ― Both Reuters and The Associated Press reported Monday that Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s former nuclear envoy to the United States who worked with Vice President Mike Pence in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, had reappeared in public life alongside Kim Jong Un, despite earlier reports that he was sentenced to hard labor and re-education.
North Korea has reportedly executed the country’s special envoy to the United States over February’s failed summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday.
Kim Hyok Chol, the chief negotiator who led the working-level negotiations with the U.S., was executed in March alongside several other officials in punishment for the outcome of the event, the newspaper reported. Trump and Kim met in Hanoi, Vietnam, for their second official summit to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but the talks abruptly collapsed after the pair failed to come to a deal. Tensions with the North have only increased in recent months after a period of relative calm.
“Kim Hyok Chol was investigated and executed at Mirim Airport with four foreign ministry officials in March,” an unnamed North Korean official told the Chosun Ilbo, according to a translation from Reuters.
Another official, Kim Yong Chol, who worked with Vice President Mike Pence in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, has also been punished, reportedly with forced labor and “ideological education,” according to the South Korean paper.
Some experts on North Korea expressed hesitation over the reports, noting that Pyongyang’s reclusive nature makes it hard to pin down who may or may not have been punished by the Kim regime. Several senior officials have been reported to be executed or disappeared only to reappear in public several months later.
Relations with North Korea have declined since the summit in Hanoi, although Trump has continued to tout his relationship with Kim, praising the leader earlier this month as a “very smart man.” Trump also denied that Pyongyang had fired any ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations resolutions, even though his own national security adviser, John Bolton, said last weekend there was “no doubt” North Korea had done just that.
“My people think it could have been a violation,” Trump said earlier this week during a state visit to Japan. “I view it differently.”
The North has grown openly antagonistic toward several Trump officials who have urged the president to take a harder line against Kim, including Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In April, the North’s state-run news agency quoted several senior officials who said they would no longer speak with Pompeo and preferred that he be replaced with someone more “mature.”