U.S. Special Representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun said Saturday that he does not think Kim Jong-un really executed a North Korean official following the failed Hanoi summit between the North Korean leader and President Donald Trump.
“I don’t know,” he shortly noted in response to reports about the killing of North Korea’s special envoy to the U.S., Kim Hyok Chol, after the two leaders failed to strike a denuclearization deal at their second nuclear summit earlier this year.
Biegun redirected all questions to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is currently in Germany. He said that the administration was looking into a report of the possible execution, released by South Korea’s most circulated daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which quotes unnamed sources.
According to the North Korean sources, the country’s top U.S. diplomat was allegedly killed in March at the Mirim airport in Pyongyang on charges of “being recruited by U.S. imperialists and betraying the supreme leader,” CNN reports.
The report has not been confirmed yet and previous South Korean reports of North Korean executions have sometimes proven false or inaccurate.
Chol’s fate came into the spotlight during discussions at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore, where North Korea was singled out as the biggest threat to security in the region.
“North Korea remains an extraordinary threat and requires continued vigilance. We acknowledge that North Korea has neared a point where it could credibly strike regional allies, U.S. territory and our forward-deployed forces,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the hundreds of attending delegates.
The Japanese defense minister later echoed those comments, reiterating that North Korea’s missile launch at the beginning of May was in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“We need to remind ourselves of the undeniable fact that there has been no essential change in North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. More specifically, North Korea maintains several hundreds of ballistic missiles which have the whole territory of Japan within their reach,” the defense minister said.