North Korea 'replaces top three military officials'

ImageCreditTom Brenner  The New York Times

ImageCreditTom Brenner The New York Times

It would be the first time North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hosted a head of state since assuming power in 2011 and comes as he is involved in a flurry of diplomatic activity.

The Trump administration hopes the Singapore summit will bring clear pledges from Kim to being rolling back the country's nuclear program.

Defence minister Pak Yong Sik has been succeeded by former first vice minster No Kwang Chol. Preparations are also underway for Foreign Minister Taro Kono's visit to Washington and a meeting with U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Wednesday. They held a fifth round of talks Monday.

Kim Jong-un has shown similar patterns in the past from refraining from public activities as he prepared for major summits. An adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently suggested the answer might be yes.

North Korea, in return, is thought to want the USA to relieve sanctions against it, remove it from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and begin steps to open diplomatic relations with the communist state - a result that could be considered a win by the North's leader ahead of the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding in September. "It is weighing whether to tighten its blood ties [with China] and enter the [U.S.] summit talks emboldened or exercise restraint and appeasement".

But even the suggestion of Assad's outreach to North Korea is certain to ripple through White House efforts to define an agenda for the planned June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim.

It is unclear whether Kim Jong-un is removing hardliners - who dominated military policy past year, when Pyongyang-Washington tensions were at their apex - from the high command ahead of his upcoming summit with Donald Trump, or is simply replacing old figures.

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So, why are Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un talking now?

"It being one of the biggest event in recent world history, you know, we wanted to get involved with the whole hype and fun that's happening at the moment", said Gastropub Escobar director Stan Sri Ganesh. "If it's a negative meeting, I'm not happy".

Trump has given top priority to the full denuclearization of North Korea.

He stressed that the Singapore meeting is part of a "process" that will go on for some time: "I told them today, 'Take your time". "What we are saying here is that we need to see these principles met or Congress will exercise its role, and we believe that it will be both Democrats and Republicans who will want to do that".

South Korea's unification ministry confirmed Kim Su Gil's appointment but declined to comment on the others. North Korea has demanded a "phased and synchronized" approach.

Suspicions over chemical weapons trade between Pyongyang and Damascus have been raised in the past by the United Nations and South Korea.

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