Kim Jong Un has allegedly executed North Korea’s top nuclear negotiators, blaming them for the failed Hanoi summit between him and President Trump, according to South Korean officials. This...does not seem good.
According to the New York Times, and first reported on Friday by a South Korean paper, Kim Hyok-chol, the special envoy to the United States, was executed on spying charges; four officials with the North Korean Foreign Ministry were executed as well. Several other officials involved with the summit were sent to forced labor camps.
The move is reportedly an effort on Kim’s part to distract from the nuclear summit, which took place in February and abruptly ended without any deal made between the two leaders, despite Trump’s self-professed dealmaking prowess.
Per the Times:
Mr. Kim took a long train ride to Hanoi to meet Mr. Trump, and North Korean state media reported high expectations for the summit meeting. But Mr. Kim had to return home empty-handed, without the sanctions relief that he badly needed to help ease his country’s deepening economic isolation.
Outside analysts have since wondered whether Mr. Kim’s negotiating team had failed to prepare him for such a breakdown in the talks or considered how Mr. Kim might react.
Trump, who seemed rather unperturbed by the failed talks, has repeatedly defended Kim, and even withdrew some U.S. Treasury-issued sanctions against North Korea as a sign of friendship. Kim, meanwhile, responded by rebuilding a missile testing site that could end up powering long-range missiles, test-firing short-range missiles, and now, by reportedly executing his negotiators. (Bloomberg notes that “[p]revious reports in South Korea media about senior North Korean officials being executed have proven false,” which is something to keep in mind.)
Though Trump has suggested the possibility of a third nuclear summit with Kim—the first, held in Singapore in 2018, went slightly better—North Korea has said it will not resume talks until the U.S. reverses an “arbitrary and dishonest” position on sanctions, and frankly nothing that’s happening here sounds like it’s heading toward a resolution anytime soon.