North Korea’s parliament to open as Kim mulls US strategy
TOKYO (AP) — North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly is expected to convene Thursday to formally approve leader Kim Jong Un’s latest economic policies and possibly endorse a shift in U.S. strategy following his failed summit with President Donald Trump in Hanoi.
Kim set the stage for the assembly meeting on Tuesday, when he told a gathering of senior party members to “fully display a high sense of responsibility and creativity” in accordance with the “prevailing tense situation,” according to state media reports.
The reports Wednesday made no mention of any comments regarding the Hanoi summit.
But Kim has previously used the opening of the assembly and the party political meetings that normally precede it as an opportunity to clarify his political priorities.
The country’s economic growth and efforts to get trade sanctions lifted are Kim’s top concerns. North Korean officials, who blamed the “hard-line” stance taken by Trump’s advisers for the collapse of the Feb. 27-28 summit, have also hinted Kim is mulling some sort of a new approach to his dealings with Washington.
North Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told diplomats in Pyongyang last month that Kim would soon make clear his post-Hanoi position, though she didn’t say exactly when.
In what appeared to be an attempt to test the waters ahead of such an announcement, she said her country might pull out of the nuclear negotiations with the United States, citing a lack of corresponding steps to some disarmament measures North Korea took last year.
She also hinted Kim was considering whether to continue the talks and his moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
Choe, who attended the summit in Hanoi, said Kim was puzzled by the “eccentric” negotiation position of the U.S. She suggested Trump was willing to talk, particularly if there was a “snapback” provision for violations, but an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust was created by the uncompromising demands of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.
Pompeo and Bolton have disputed the allegation.
While the assembly prepared to meet in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in flew to the United States to discuss how to strengthen their countries’ alliance and joint efforts to achieve their goal of complete denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The Supreme People’s Assembly, which is North Korea’s version of a parliament but has little real power, generally meets at least once a year to approve the annual budget, hear progress reports and endorse policies and personnel changes that have already been decided upon by Kim and the ruling party leadership.
Thursday’s session will convene a new lineup of nearly 700 “deputies” approved in a nationwide election last month. The seats aren’t contested at the polls — each district has just one candidate who is pre-approved by the ruling party. Voters can merely approve or, theoretically, disapprove of the candidate.
Kim holds a seat in the assembly, but did not run for re-election, suggesting he may have assumed some sort of special status as the representative of the entire nation, instead of a single district or constituency. His younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was elected to a seat last month.
Also being watched this time is the fate of the current head of the assembly Kim Yong Nam, who is 91 years old. Though he remains active in his role of ceremonial elder statesman — receiving foreign dignitaries and attending important public functions — his retirement has long been expected.
Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge