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(LEAD) Top N.K. nuke negotiator's status appears intact despite no-deal Trump-Kim summit

All News 11:12 April 10, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, paras 4, 7; ADDS more info in paras 5-6, 8-9)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, April 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Yong-chol, appeared at this week's key ruling party meeting, indicating his still high stature in the communist state despite the collapse of Pyongyang's summit with Washington in February.

Kim, a vice chairman of the Workers' Party's Central Committee, was seen among the top officials at the enlarged politburo session Tuesday in a photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency the following day.

Speculation had persisted that Kim might have faced disciplinary action after the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi fell apart due to their failure to bridge differences over the extent of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a key ruling party meeting on April 9, 2019, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

In the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, Kim Yong-chol had spearheaded negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a range of sticking points -- a reason why rumors emerged that he could be held responsible for the breakdown of the summit.

The unfruitful summit was a dispiriting setback to the North Korean leader, who has been seeking sanctions relief from Washington to accelerate his drive for economic development.

In a show of Pyongyang's growing impatience over a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Washington, its Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui threatened last month to suspend the negotiations.

The chief nuclear negotiator's appearance at the party meeting suggested that the North Korean leader might not seek any major shift in the makeup of his team in charge of nuclear negotiations with Washington.

Kim Yo-jong, the leader's younger sister, was also seen attending the meeting in an indication of her position in the party's top echelons. Last month, she was elected as a deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly, the North's rubber-stamp parliament.

Park Kwang-ho, a vice chairman of the party's Central Committee, also showed up at the party session, dispelling rumors of health problems. He had been out of the public eye since early November, fueling speculation that he might be sick.


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