North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly removed his country’s top three military and defense officials from their posts.
U.S. officials suspect that dissension within the military over the North’s dealings with the U.S. and South Korea led Kim to make leadership changes, Reuters reports. The North Korean leader is believed to have replaced Gen. Pak Yong-sik, the defense minister, Gen. Ri Myong-su, chief of the Korean People’s Army’s general staff, and Gen. Kim Jong-gak, director of the military’s General Political Bureau, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing intelligence sources.
The latter’s removal was apparently confirmed by North Korean state media last month.
“The North appears to have brought in new figures amid the changes in inter-Korean relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula as the previous officials lacked flexibility in thinking,” an intelligence source told Yonhap, adding that Pak was replaced with the much more moderate No Kwang-chol, who previously served as the first vice minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.
The shakeup comes less than two weeks before a historic summit between Kim and President Donald Trump. Although the president canceled the summit after a string of critical statements from the North Korean foreign ministry, Trump decided to revive the summit after a flurry of diplomatic activity and a personal letter from Kim.
The North Korean leader is believed to have admonished the foreign ministry for derailing summit negotiations through hostile commentary noticeably similar to North Korea’s past rhetoric.
While it is difficult to obtain solid intelligence on North Korea, evidence seems to suggest that Kim may be interested in taming the more hard-line forces in his country’s military and diplomatic outfits, possibly setting the stage for certain concessions.
Kim has made a commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but it is unclear what steps he plans to take, if any, to actually make good on that promise. Trump and Kim will meet in Singapore on June 12.
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