WASHINGTON — Pentagon and State Department officials said Friday that reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un executed several top aides and imprisoned others after the failure of his last summit with President Donald Trump are being closely studied.
They stressed that the reports, made public Friday by a South Korean newspaper, are not fully confirmed. However, Pentagon officials said the lack of confirmation does not mean the report lacks merit.
If the reports are accurate, they would follow reporting in early April by rogue North Korean journalists about executions and punishments in the aftermath of the February summit.
According to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, top adviser Kim Hyok Chol was executed in March at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang, along with four foreign ministry officials after they were charged with spying for the United States.
“He was accused of spying for the United States for poorly reporting on the negotiations without properly grasping U.S. intentions,” the source for Chosun Ilbo was quoted as saying about Kim Hyok Chol.
Reuters reported, however, that he and other officials were punished “but there was no evidence they were executed and they may have been sent to a labor camp for re-education.”
The reported actions occurred in the wake of the February summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam. Kim Jong Un had sought sanctions relief, while Trump sought complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — and no progress was made on either desire.
One of those reported punished but not executed is Kim Yong Chol. He was considered the counterpart to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Hanoi summit. He reportedly had been sent to a labor and reeducation camp in Jagang Province near the Chinese border, the Chosun Ilbo reported.
Kim Yong Chol hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump during a visit to Washington D.C. in January.
Others reported to be imprisoned are Kim Song Hye, who led the preparations, and Sin Hye Yong, an interpreter for the Hanoi summit, the newspaper said.
“We’ve seen the reporting to which you are referring,” Pompeo said Friday during a news conference in Berlin. “We’re doing our best to check it out. I don’t have anything else to add to that today.”
South Korea’s Blue House — its version of the White House — said in a statement that it is examining all relevant information.
“We think that it is important to grasp how much of confirmed information the article contains,” the statement said. “I do not think it is appropriate to make any hasty judgment or comment about that part.”