Kim Yong Chol: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Kim Yong Chol

Getty Kim Yong Chol is allegedly heading to the United States to discuss the recently-cancelled diplomatic summit between the US and North Korea.

Kim Yong Chol, one of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s top officials, is  traveling to the United States on a flight from Beijing, due to arrive early Wednesday.

Trump confirmed the news of Kim Yong Chol’s trip to the US early Tuesday, tweeting: “We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!”

Chol will be the most “senior official to visit the United States since 2000, when Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok traveled to Washington to meet with former US President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office,” according to CNN.

The two countries are still attempting to lay the groundwork for on-again, off-again talks between Kim and President Trump in Singapore on June 12.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Chol’s Will Be the Most Senior North Korean Official to Visit the United States in 18 Years

Kim Yong Chol

General Kim Yong Chol (C), who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs for North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, arrives to leave for North Korea from the inter-Korea transit office in Paju near the Demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas on February 27, 2018.
The powerful North Korean general on February 27 wrapped up his visit to the South as part of an Olympics charm offensive by Pyongyang that has drawn angry protests calling for his arrest. / AFP PHOTO / KOREA POOL / KOREA POOL / South Korea OUT (Photo credit should read KOREA POOL/AFP/Getty Images)

Chol and Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong have been two of the most visible North Korean diplomats in North Korea’s push for reconciliation with South Korea and the United States this year.
“Chol’s reported trip to the US indicates that Washington and Pyongyang have direct lines of communication open and are working together closely to work though issues ahead of the summit,” according to CNN.
Chol is believed to be the most senior North Korean to visit the US since Jo in 2000.
“There is a power going to enemy territory. The act itself builds confidence on both sides,” said John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University’s Graduate school of International Studies, CNN reports.
“It shows a healthy process of the two sides working with sincerity to fundamentally change the relationship.”

2. As the Vice-Chairman of the Workers’ Party, Chol has a Long History with North Korean Military Work and is North Korea’s Key Military Strategist

Kim Yong Chol

North Korea’s chief delegate Kim Yong-Chol (L) talks with his South Korean counterpart Lee Hong-Kee (R) during the inter-Korean general talks at the south side of the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone, 14 December 2007. South and North Korea will try to iron out differences over a proposed joint fishing zone along their disputed western sea border in the third and last day of high-level military talks. AFP PHOTO/POOL/JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

Chol is officially vice-chairman of the central committee of North Korea’s very powerful Workers’ Party. Chol is the former head of the General Reconnaissance Bureau intelligence agency, he is the Stalinist regime’s spy chief and a key strategist to North Korea, according to TIME.

“Since denuclearization is the core issue of recent inter-Korea and Sino-North Korea summits, Kim Jong Un always has Kim Yong Chol at his side, as he is a savvy operator regarding nuclear and military affairs,” Cheong Seong-chang of the South Korea’s Sejong Institute tells TIME.

Chol has a long history of military work, dating back to 1962 when he served in the 15th Division, a civil police company guarding the Korean Demilitarized Zone. In 1968 he was appointed liaison officer to the United Nations Command, Military Armistice Commission, Korea and in 1976 he was promoted to division commander of the Supreme Guard Command. He was again promoted in 1990 to Major General and became deputy director of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces and director of the MPAF Reconnaissance Bureau. In 1998 he was elected as a deputy to the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly and again in 2003 to the 11th.

In 2009, he was appointed director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau and Vice-Chief of the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army. He also elected as a deputy to the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly. In 2010 he was promoted to Colonel-General and elected to the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the 6th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Chol was briefly demoted to Colonel-General and then reinstated as a four-star general in 2012.


3. Chol is Accused of Sinking the South Korean Navy Ship “Cheonan” in 2010, Killing 46 Sailors on Board

Kim Yong Chol

Anti-North Korean protests burn a North Korean flag during a rally against an upcoming visit by Kim Yong Chol who will head an eight-member delegation at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games’ closing ceremony, in Seoul on February 24, 2018.
Angry relatives of sailors killed in the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship protested against the impending visit to the Winter Olympics of a North Korean general blamed for the attack. / AFP PHOTO / Joseph CHUNG (Photo credit should read JOSEPH CHUNG/AFP/Getty Images)

Born in 1946, Chol has a long history of controversy on top of his military service. South Korea blames Kim Yong Chol for sinking its navy ship called the Cheonan in 2010, and angry relatives of the 46 sailors killed protested when he came to South Korea as the North’s envoy to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February.

“Execute Kim Yong Chol,” chanted family members of the deceased Cheonan sailors at a protest during the Olympics, brandishing portraits of Kim marked out with a red cross. South Korea’s Liberty Party even released a statement at the time that said Kim Yong Chol deserved “death by beating,” according to TIME.

North Korea has consistently denied responsibility for sinking the Cheonan over the years, although there are few other explanations as to what sunk the ship. He also allegedly had a hand in North Korea’s deadly shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island six months later, TIME reports.

Chol also has a reputation for being unreasonable and malicious. During inter-Korea talks in 2007, he rejected an offer from Seoul by saying, “Do you have another briefcase with you? Maybe you have another briefcase of proposals,” reports North Korea Leadership Watch.


4. Chol is Close to Members of the North Korean Dynasty, Serving as a Body Guard to Kim Jong Un’s Father and Fostering a Close Relationship with Kim Jong Un’s Mother

PANMUNJOM, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: North Korea’s lieutenant general Kim Yong-chol (R) and South Korea’s army major general Jeong Seung-jo shake hands before the two Koreas’ general-level military talks on the south side of the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, 24 July 2007. South and North Korea started high-level military talks to try to ease tensions along the world’s last Cold War border. AFP PHOTO / POOL (Photo credit should read jo young-hak/AFP/Getty Images)

Chol had a close relationship with former regime leader and father to the current Kim Kim Jong Il, serving as his body guard. According to TIME, he was also close with other members of the dynasty, including Kim Jong Un’s mother, Ko Yong Hui.

“Chol oversaw the expansion of North Korea’s cyber and electronic warfare while at the General Reconnaissance Bureau, including reportedly overseeing the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures over the spoof film The Interview, which lampoons the Kim clan,” according to TIME. “As tough new U.N. sanctions cut off traditional revenue sources, the regime has put much more effort into lucrative cybercrime. Kim Yong Chol’s burgeoning profile may be linked to his success plugging the gap.”

He was on both Kim Jong Un’s trips to China, sat beside the North Korean leader during his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and held meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang to discuss the stalled U.S.-North Korea summit set for Singapore on June 12.


5. Chol’s Alleged Visit Comes Days After a Controversial Back-and-Forth Between the US and North Korea Over the Cancelled Upcoming Diplomatic Summit in Singapore

Trump  announced in a letter released by the White House Thursday morning that he will not be meeting with Kim Jong Un next month for the scheduled summit after foreign policy adviser John Bolton invoked the example of the deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhaffi to illustrate the consequences for Kim Jong Un if North Korea refused to cooperate with the United States.

“This will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview with Fox News, adding that his statement was “more of a fact” than a threat.

President Trump then decided to withdraw from the summit after a North Korean vice minister of foreign affairs responded to Pence, called Pence a “political dummy,” and deemed his threat “unbridled and impudent.” North Korean officials also publicly vowed to never surrender their nuclear capabilities in exchange for economic concessions.

According to CNN, the Trump administration was furious about the comment and “wanted to respond forcefully,” multiple sources told the news outlet.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” the letter stated.

“Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” Choe Son Hui, a vice-minister in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, told North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency Thursday.


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