Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was looking into reports that North Korea executed a top official over his handling of nuclear talks with the Trump administration.
“We’ve seen the reporting … we’re doing our best to check it out,” Pompeo said Friday during a joint press conference with the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin.
Earlier Friday, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the US, was executed after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump were unable to reach an agreement at their second summit in February.
The paper — quoting unnamed North Korean sources — said Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at the Mirim airport in Pyongyang on charges of “being recruited by US imperialists and betraying the supreme leader.”
Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s State Affair Commission special representative, led negotiations with the US Special Representative to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, at the Hanoi summit and was in charge of the working level talks with American counterparts.
CNN has not been able to independently verify the reporting in Chosun Ilbo — South Korea’s most circulated daily newspaper — and South Korean reports of North Korean executions have at times been inaccurate.
North Korea’s leader was believed to be carrying out a purge of top officials following the failure of the negotiations with the Trump administration, the paper said.
Another North Korean top negotiator, Kim Yong Chol, was reportedly “dismissed” and “is doing forced labor in Chagang-do province”, according to Chosun. Kim Yong Chol hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump during a visit to Washington D.C. in January this year, and also served as Pompeo’s counterpart in the negotiations.
When asked about the Chosun report, South Korea’s Presidential Blue House said: “We do examine all relevant information, but we think that it is important to grasp how much of confirmed information the article contains. I do not think it is appropriate to make any hasty judgment or comment about that part.”
At their first face-to-face meeting in Singapore, Trump and Kim signed an agreement to work towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. At the second summit in Hanoi in February, it was expected that the two leaders would sign a joint declaration advancing the negotiations. Instead, the summit ended earlier than expected, with the signing ceremony and a planned working lunch scrapped.
Shin Hye Yong, the interpreter for Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, was also reportedly imprisoned in a political camp for what Chosun described as an interpretation error at the summit. Her mistake “damaged the authority of supreme authority,” according to the paper.
And Kim Song Hye, who was in charge of the working-level discussion with Kim Hyok Chol, was sent to a political prisoner camp.
Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, who was by his side in Hanoi, was removed from official activity, Chosun reported.