Undoubtedly, President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un are the main stars of the summit in Vietnam. But around them is an orchestra of senior aides who are keeping the show going.
These are some of the trusted advisers and negotiators who, behind the scenes, are helping to formulate the outcome of the second Trump-Kim summit. If any deal happens, they will likely have played a key part in it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were the plus-2s Trump took with him to his dinner with Kim Jong Un on Wednesday in Hanoi.
While Trump continued to lavish praise on his North Korean friend, Pompeo, a chief architect of the second summit, remained firm about the need for the regime to achieve more “real, demonstrable, verifiable” results this time.
Against the unorthodox and impulsive moves made by Trump, ex-CIA director Pompeo appears to play a more conventional and even hawkish hand.
Last July, Pompeo made waves when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that North Korea was actively making fuel for nuclear weapons, saying “they continue to produce fissile material.” A month earlier, Trump had prematurely declared North Korea “no longer a nuclear threat.”
Amid criticism that the U.S. has achieved little in its public courting of the pariah state, Pompeo has doubled down on the strategy, saying at a press conference ahead of this summit that the U.S. is “making the progress we need.”
Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun
Trump named Stephen Biegun special envoy to North Korea just a over six months ago. Since the end of the end of August, Biegun has taken the reins in negotiating this second summit, and flitted between the Koreas and Vietnam to clinch the details.
A week before the summit kicked off, Biegun touched down in Hanoi to meet with senior DPRK officials and begin ironing out any trade-offs between Pyongyang and Washington.
But Biegun faces a number of hurdles in trying to cement a deal, including balancing Trump’s desperation for a history-making agreement against the expectations of more hawkish figures within the administration who do not trust North Korea and want to sustain maximum pressure on the regime.
Yun Hyang Lee, Interpreter
When the doors close and everyone leaves Trump and Kim to square off, diplomacy rests on the shoulders of State Department interpreter Yun Hyang Lee.
Lee has worked extensively with the State Department and the White House under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and served Trump last November during a visit by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. She was also by Trump’s side in Singapore during his hotly anticipated first meeting with Kim.
Vice Chair Kim Yong Chol
Former spy chief Kim Yong Chol is North Korea’s chief interlocutor in nuclear talks with the U.S. and Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man. The Vice Chair of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea appears to be the most influential North Korean outside the Kim family.
Kim Yong Chol has dedicated his life to military service. He took part in high-level inter-Korean talks in the early 1990s, and headed the security team during South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s summit in 2000.
While at the General Reconnaissance Bureau, Kim Yong Chol oversaw the expansion of North Korea’s cyber and electronic warfare, and reportedly masterminded the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures.
More recently, Kim Yong Chol was on both Kim Jong Un’s trips to China and met Pompeo and Trump in Washington last month to lay the groundwork for resuming the stalled denuclearization talks.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho
The reclusive state’s second most visible official is arguably Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong. Analysts have long identified him as a key player to watch.
Ri, like Kim Jong Un, is a graduate of the Kim Il Sung Military Academy and a third-generation fixture of the regime’s elite. Ri reportedly established a close relationship with Kim Jong Il, as well as with Chang Sung Taek, the uncle of the current Supreme Leader who was accused of treason and executed in 2013.
Ri and Kim Yong Chol were both alongside Kim Jong Un at the summit’s dinner on Wednesday.
Kim Yo Jong
Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong accompanied the Dear Leader on his two and a half day train journey to reach Vietnam. The youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong Il became a member of the Workers Party’s Politburo, the country’s highest political assembly, in 2017.
Like with much else about the Kim clan, details about Kim Yo Jong are shrouded in mystery. Even her age is the subject of some debate. She could be 29, or she might be 31.
She is believed to be one of her brother’s most trusted aides, and last year, she led the North’s charm offensive at the Olympic Games in PyeongChang. South Korean media dubbed her “North Korea’s Ivanka” because of her family connections.
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