The Korea Times -By Park Ji-won
U.S. President Donald Trump has once again come to the defense of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, casting doubt on reports of a purge of key officials after the failure of their February summit in Hanoi, and expressing hopes of signing a deal with him.
When asked whether he saw the reports of executions in the North of the people involved in the summit and was he worried about this, Trump responded: “I don’t know if the reports are correct because one of the gentlemen who we deal with is ― this is North Korea they’re talking about ― is somebody that we know well. He’s a strong man. He’s a strong person.”
Claiming that reports prefer to blame Kim, he added, “They said he [Kim Hyok-chol] was killed, and he wasn’t. He was at the theater the other night, so he wasn’t killed.”
Trump expressed hopes for a deal with the North and made it clear that Pyongyang’s missile launches on May 4 and 9 were not “nuclear testing.”
“It’s been going pretty well because there hasn’t been testing of anything major, and, frankly, there’s been no nuclear testing in a long period of time.
“I think that Chairman Kim would like to make a deal, and I’d like to make a deal with him. I look forward to seeing him at the appropriate time.”
His remarks came after the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported last week that key North Korean officials involved in the denuclearization talks, including Kim Yong-chol, the counterpart to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had been purged. The local daily went on to say that Kim had been sent to a hard labor camp and Kim Hyok-chol, a former envoy to the U.S., had been executed, after they were blamed for the failure of the summit.
However, North Korean news outlets published stories Monday that showed Kim Yong-chol watching an art performance with leader Kim Jong-un, contradicting the paper’s report.
Observers say Trump’s intention is to keep the nuclear talks with Pyongyang alive before the 2020 U.S. presidential election as one of his signature diplomatic achievements. Including Trump, several U.S. officials have been sending positive signals to the North, despite hawkish statements by some key members of his administration.
Trump also appeared to defend the North after it launched several missiles, May 4 and 9, which could have been a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions against Pyongyang.
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me,” Trump tweeted May 26.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo stepped up pressure on North Korea in an interview with the Washington Times, Tuesday, in which he stressed the “unambiguous.” U.S. stance of Pyongyang having to give up all its nuclear weapons to gain sanctions relief.
“They need to do what Chairman Kim said that they would do,” Pompeo said. “That’s been our posture since the beginning. We’re happy to talk about the best way to achieve that. We’re happy to talk about what the right tools and mechanisms are so we can facilitate that.”
The North Korean Foreign Ministry has continued its recently restarted protests against Washington after a U.S. security report called the country a “rogue state.”
“That the U.S. has called the DPRK, its dialogue partner, a rogue state is a clear infringement upon the latter’s sovereignty and dignity, and it is nothing less than a de facto declaration of confrontation,” a senior ministry official said, according to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report Wednesday.
On Tuesday, in a statement by the ministry spokesman, North Korea accused the U.S of betraying the Singapore agreement, and blamed it for the breakdown in Hanoi by demanding the North unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons.
“At the second DPRK-U.S. summit talks held in Hanoi amid the great interest and expectation of the entire world, the United States made the biggest mistake of having missed a lifetime opportunity by insisting on dismantlement of the nuclear program first,” the statement said, urging Washington to change its diplomatic calculations.