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North Korea Executes Envoy Over Failed Summit With Trump

North Korea has executed its nuclear envoy to the United States as part of a purge of officials who steered negotiations for a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump, a South Korean newspaper said on Friday.

Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, along with four foreign ministry executives after they were all charged with spying for the United States, the Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the situation.

“He was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping U.S. intentions,” the source was quoted as saying.

The February summit in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, the second between Kim and Trump, failed to reach a deal because of conflicts over U.S. calls for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report. Previously, some North Korean officials have reportedly been executed or purged only to reappear with a new title.

U.S. State Department officials said they had no information to confirm the report.

A spokeswoman at South Korea’s Unification Ministry declined to comment. An official at the presidential Blue House in Seoul said it was inappropriate to comment on an issue that should first be verified.

A diplomatic source told Reuters there were signs Kim Hyok Chol and other officials were punished for the breakdown of the summit, such as by being sent to a labor camp for reeducation, but there was no evidence they were executed.Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man and the counterpart of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Hanoi summit, had also been sent to a labor and reeducation camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, the Chosun Ilbo reported.

Key officials who worked with Kim Yong Chol have been out of the public eye since the summit, while seasoned diplomats who previously appeared to have been sidelined, including vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui, were seen returning to the spotlight.

A South Korean lawmaker told Reuters in April that Kim Yong Chol, a hawkish former spymaster, had been removed from a key party post.

Kim Hyok Chol was seen as a rising star when he was appointed to spearhead working-level talks with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun weeks before the Hanoi summit.

However, little was known about his expertise or the role he undertook during those talks. The other four executed alongside him included diplomats working on Vietnam relations, the Chosun report said.

“This is a man who might provide some tactical advice to the leader but is otherwise a message bearer with little negotiating or policymaking latitude,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre.

“Instead, they put in someone like Kim Hyok Chol to insulate Choe Son Hui and more substantive diplomatic personnel, to a certain degree he is expendable and his superiors are not.”

Among the penalized officials were Kim Song Hye, who led preparations as part of Kim Yong Chol’s team, and Sin Hye Yong, a newly elevated interpreter for the Hanoi summit. They were said to have been detained in a camp for political prisoners, the newspaper said.

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