- Patrick Semansky/Reuters
- A hardline North Korean official with a bad reputation, Kim Yong Chol, is set to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York on Wednesday.
- It will be President Donald Trump’s first indication of where North Korea really stands in coming talks.
- North Korea dispatched Kim to New York to meet Pompeo as part of a scramble to save the proposed June 12 summit in Singapore.
- He is known as someone with a tough negotiating stance who makes dark jokes that don’t go over well.
- Meeting him should give Pompeo an unfiltered look at North Korea’s stance – but could provoke an extreme reaction.
President Donald Trump will get his first an indication of where North Korea really stands in coming denuclearization talks on Wednesday, when a hardline official with a bad reputation is set to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York City.
North Korea has dispatched Kim Yong Chol to New York to meet with Pompeo as part of a scramble to save the scheduled June 12 summit in Singapore between Kim Jong Un and Trump, a meeting that would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
Kim Yong Chol has worked for all three North Korean leaders and served in the country’s intelligence service for 30 years. During this time he earned a formidable, dark reputation.
Kim is believed to be behind the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures and the sinking of a South Korean navy ship known as the Cheonan in 2010 that ultimately killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied involvement in both incidents. Nonetheless, the naval attack in particular has made him a hated figure in South Korea.
He introduced himself to a crowd at a South Korean concert in 2018 by saying, “Hi, I’m the man you blame for sinking the Cheonan,” according to the Korea-analysis website 38 North.
“Kim Yong Chol can be quite sarcastic and exhibits what would be called snark,” North Korea Leadership Watch wrote.
He is known as someone with a tough negotiating stance who makes dark jokes that don’t go over well, yet he routinely represents North Korea in talks with the South.
In one diplomatic interaction, North Korea Leadership Watch said, he rejected South Korea’s proposals and asked: “Do you have another briefcase with you? Maybe you have another briefcase of proposals.”
What the hardliner’s visit means for Trump
- Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
So far Trump has had little direct contact with North Korea, receiving its messages mainly through South Korean intermediaries.
South Korea, under President Moon Jae-in, a liberal elected on a platform of engaging with the North, has many reasons to soften Pyongyang’s image and message in talks with Trump.
Not least among these reasons is that Trump has seemed willing to use military force, and renewed conflict in South Korea could cost untold thousands of lives there.
Eventually, Trump will have to hear North Korea’s demands, and Kim Yong Chol is an unfiltered source of them.
“North Korea is sending a hardliner and it could indicate that North Korea is serious about the negotiation,” Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center, told Business Insider.
“The traditional perception is that the people from Foreign Ministry are only channels to convey messages without being able to commit or agree to anything,” Sun said.
“Given Kim’s military background, this could be a sign that North Korea is dedicated to the summit and negotiation this time.”
As Kim Yong Chol isn’t expected to sugarcoat anything, this meeting with Pompeo could indicate just how viable future talks about denuclearization are.
Hearing North Korea’s serious positions before the talks is a necessary step to make the summit happen.
Nonetheless, Kim Yong Chol’s visit is a serious test for the Trump administration, whose appetite for North Korean snark remains questionable.