Sanctioned North Korean General Heading to the U.S. for Talks

By Patrick Goodenough | May 29, 2018 | 4:20am EDT
Gen. Kim Yong-chol sits at the right hand of Kim Jong Un during talks in Pyongyang on March 5, 2018 with a senior South Korean delegation. Also in the picture is the dictator’s sister, Kim Yo-jong. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

( – As preparations continue for a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, a hardline North Korean general targeted for sanctions by both the United States and South Korea for acts including terrorism is heading Tuesday to the U.S. on Tuesday.

Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported that Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), was in Beijing, en route to New York.

President Trump confirmed that reports in an early Tuesday morning tweet: "We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!" the president wrote around 6:30 a.m.

In 2010 Kim Yong-chol was sanctioned by the U.S. government for his part in actions constituting “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

The news comes as U.S. and North Korean officials meet along the DMZ to plan the historic Kim-Trump summit, now evidently back on track after the U.S. president last Thursday said he was canceling the meeting.

Bilateral logistics talks are also to take place in Singapore – the envisaged summit venue – this week, and Trump hinted at the weekend that other talks may be underway in the U.S. itself.

“We’re doing very well in terms of the summit with North Korea. It looks like it’s going along very well,” he told reporters at the White House. “As you know, there are meetings going on as we speak, in a certain location, which I won’t name. But you’d like the location; it’s not so far away from here.”

The U.N. in New York is the one place in the United States where North Korean officials are stationed, and the “New York channel” has long served as the sole direct dialogue mechanism between the two governments.

If Kim Yong-chol is traveling to New York as reported, he would be the most senior North Korean to visit the U.S. since an envoy for Kim Jong-il, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, did so in October 2000, meeting with President Clinton at the White House and paving the way for a visit to Pyongyang by then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright weeks later.

General Kim Yong-chol addresses a meeting in Pyongyang in July 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Kim Yong-chol, however, is a considerably more controversial individual than Jo Myong Rok (who died in 2010, aged 82.)

South Korea holds Kim Yong-chol, the former head of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) intelligence agency, responsible for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship and the deaths of 46 sailors.

An international investigation attributed the sinking of the Cheonan – the deadliest armed attack on the Korean peninsula in more than two decades – to a North Korean torpedo.

(Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen visited a memorial to the 46 lost sailors during their visit to the Winter Olympics earlier this year.)

The South Korean authorities have also accused Kim Yong-chol of responsibility for other hostile acts, and targeted him for sanctions in 2016. They include:

--Ordering the attempted assassination in 2010 of the highest-ranking North Korean ever to have defected to the South, former secretary of the WPK, Hwang Jang-yop Two RGB officers were jailed for ten years each after pleading guilty in a South Korean court of the attempted murder, carried out on Kim Yong-chol’s orders;

--The shelling in 2010 an island near the North-South maritime border, which cost the lives of two South Korean soldiers and two civilians; and

--Landmine explosions in the DMZ zone in 2015 which injured two South Korean soldiers.

In 2013, Kim Yong-chol threatened in a televised statement to “declare invalid” the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, in response to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and plans to impose sanctions against Pyongyang over its third nuclear test. (It has carried out another three since then.)

When Kim Yong-chol headed North Korea’s delegation to the Winter Olympics last February, dozens of conservative South Korean lawmakers protested his visit, with some saying he deserved to be executed for war crimes.

Kim Yong-chol is also the target of U.S. sanctions.

In 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Kim Yong-chol and the RGB for their roles in actions and policies that were determined to “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

In 2015, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper named Kim Yong-chol as the official who likely ordered a cyber-attack the previous year on Sony Pictures. Pyongyang was apparently retaliating for a comedy featuring a plot involving an attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un.

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