SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was re-elected as chairman of the highest decision-making body in the country at a major parliamentary meeting during which members of the team that manages talks with the United States were also reappointed, state media reported on Friday.
As expected, Kim was re-elected as chairman of the State Affairs Commission during the first session of the new Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s legislature, held on Thursday.
Kim Jong-un was first elected chairman of this commission in June 2016, when this body was originally created.
In turn, Kim Jae-ryong, a senior party official, was appointed premier of the cabinet, replacing Pak Pong-ju, according to the KCNA news agency.
Choe Ryong-hae, who during the first years of Kim Jong-un’s term was considered the number two in the regime, replaces veteran Kim Yong-nam, aged 91, as President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, a position Kim Yong-nam had held since 1998.
The main delegate of the US negotiating team and one of the heads of North Korean intelligence, Kim Yong-chol, maintained his position in the State Affairs Commission, as well as another key figure in the denuclearization talks, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.
Some analysts had pointed to the possibility that, after the failure of the Hanoi summit, Kim Jong-un would opt to change these delegates.
But the leader has kept them in their positions or supported their promotion, as has happened with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe Son-hui, who was elected for the first time as a member of the State Affairs Commission at the parliamentary meeting on Thursday.
The disagreement in Hanoi revolved around the number of North Korean arms assets to be dismantled – in addition to nuclear weapons, Washington advocated that Pyongyang also dismantle chemical and biological missiles and weapons – and the volume of sanctions on the regime that the US would alleviate as a corresponding measure.
Washington considered insufficient what was offered by Pyongyang, as it called for the lifting of many sanctions in exchange for disabling its Yongbyon nuclear research center.
The North Korean parliamentary session coincided with the summit held in Washington by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, in which they stressed the need to keep the dialogue alive despite the setback in Hanoi.
Trump was open to reaching “small deals” with North Korea which do not necessarily have to do with denuclearization, but he remained firm in his refusal to make economic concessions to Pyongyang.