- Lee Dong-Hun-Pool/Getty Images
- A high-ranking North Korean official’s upcoming visit to South Korea spurred a decisive statement from a US State Department official.
- Kim Yong-chol, North Korea’s former intelligence chief, is scheduled to visit South Korea on Sunday.
- His visit is marked with controversy due to North Korea’s previous provocations.
A high-ranking North Korean official’s upcoming visit to South Korea amid the Winter Olympics spurred a decisive statement by a US State Department official on Thursday.
Kim Yong-chol, North Korea’s vice chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee and the country’s former intelligence chief, is scheduled to arrive in South Korea on Sunday. Kim is part of the North’s delegation to take part in the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.
Chol is widely believed to have been the mastermind behind a series of provocations, namely the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan – a South Korean naval ship that was hit with a torpedo in 2010.
Fourty-six South Korean sailors died in the incident which has since become a divisive issue in the country. During Vice President Mike Pence’s recent trip to South Korea’s Winter Olympics, he and South Korean President Moon Jae In visited a memorial of the incident, which includes a salvaged hull of the ship.
“I think first we would hope that he would take the opportunity to go to that memorial; to go to the memorial and see what he [is] believed to have been responsible for,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a press briefing, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News.
Meanwhile, South Korean government officials appear to be glossing over the incident in hopes to improve relations on the Korean peninsula.
Chol’s trip was approved by South Korea as a way to “improve inter-Korean ties and pave way for dialogue for peace,” a spokesman from South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a Yonhap News report.
“It is clear that North Korea was blamed for the warship sinking and Kim was leading North Korea’s reconnaissance bureau at that time,” the spokesman said. “But it is also the fact that there is a limitation in pinpointing who was responsible for the incident.”
Chol’s visit has also sparked protests amongst conservative critics, some of whom called for his arrest on arrival and called for Chol’s “death by beating.”
“We absolutely oppose a visit to the South by Kim Yong-chol, the main culprit of the Cheonan’s sinking,” one lawmaker said during a rally. “Kim Yong-chol’s visit should be immediately scrapped.”