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North and South Korea summit: The people Kim trusts the most

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North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un will be bringing an elite group of confidantes and advisers along with him when he crosses into South Korea.

The South say it has never hosted such a senior delegation from Pyongyang. This is the third inter-Korean summit, but this time it is also a prelude to a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. No sitting US president has ever met a North Korean leader.

So who does Kim trust the most as he heads into uncharted diplomatic waters?

Kim Yo-jong – increasingly powerful sister

The importance of Kim Yo-jong to her brother’s master plan was made clear when she was made the ambassador for the recent Winter Olympics in the South, which is arguably where this all started.

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At that point, she was thought to be the first immediate member of the Kim dynasty to visit the South since the Korean war ended in 1953.

She remains on a US sanctions list over alleged links to human rights abuses in North Korea, but was still wined and dined by South Korea’s president and top officials.

She was the smiling face of the North Korean leadership at the Olympics, as South Korean media analysed her freckles and clothing – and speculated on whether she was pregnant.

But her power within the state is not to be underestimated, and analysts say that many of the ruthless decisions Mr Kim took were probably made with his sister by his side.

Kim Yong-nam – survivor of purges

The 90-year-old Kim Yong-nam has seen the rule of all three North Korean leaders in his career.

Unlike Kim Jong-un, he has travelled abroad on official visits. He went to Iran last summer to attend President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration ceremony for his second term.

His loyalty to the leadership has never been questioned and some have pointed out that his ability to survive purges is impressive.

“He makes no mistakes. That’s why he could keep his high-level post in a country where political purges are common,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted one North Korean defector as saying.

Choe Hwi – North Korean cultural don

North Korea’s sports minister is known for his relatively relaxed demeanour in his state media appearances and photo opportunities.

His first post of any significance was as a manager of the Sea of Blood opera troupe in the mid-1980s, according to the North Korea Leadership Watch blog.

He has spent most of his career in North Korea’s arts sector and is even thought to have been involved in the establishment of Moranbong Band, a North Korean all-female pop group.

The breakthrough role of the Winter Olympics in North-South relations as well as recent cultural exchanges may account for his importance.

Kim Yong-chol – tough negotiator

One of the more controversial figures in the delegation is Kim Yong-chol, a former military intelligence chief who is accused of masterminding attacks on the South Korea warship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

Gen Kim has a reputation for being difficult to work with and sarcastic, North Korea Leadership Watch reports.

During talks with South Korea in 2007, he reportedly rejected an offer from the South by saying: “Maybe you have another briefcase of proposals.”

Ri Su-yong – diplomat and ‘father figure’

Mr Ri – previously known as Ri Chol – has connections with the Kims going way back. He went to school with Kim Jong-il, before acting as guardian for his children, including the current leader, when they studied in Switzerland in the 1990s.

Michael Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch has called him a “father figure” to Kim Jong-un.

He went on to travel widely to represent the country and was made foreign minister in 2014, at a time when the role was becoming increasingly influential. He now directs the International Affairs Department, enabling him to interact often with foreign diplomats.

According to North Korean Leadership Watch, he is respected as a diplomat at the UN and is considered an approachable figure.

Ri Myong-su – tutor and military man

Mr Ri took over as military chief of staff in 2016. Two of his predecessors under Kim Jong-un are believed to have been executed and another purged.

In his 80s, he is a Korean War veteran and seen as a leading military strategist.

According to North Korea Leadership Watch, he acted as a tutor for Kim Jong-un as he began being groomed for leadership.

He disappeared for a few years after Kim Jong-il’s death but is now front and centre in the leadership line up.

Pak Yong-sik – defence minister

He has been head of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces since 2015. The MPAF handles the military’s administrative and logistics activities, as well as diplomatic interactions with foreign armies.

Mr Pak has overseen restructuring of the military as well as recovery operations after disastrous flooding in 2016.

Ri Yong-ho – outspoken foreign minister

A career diplomat, Ri Yong-ho was for a long time North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator and has held several ambassadorial positions, including in the UK.

He was promoted to the role of foreign minister in 2016. and has has developed a reputation for being outspoken. Last year, he accused the US of “declaring war” on North Korea and compared President Donald Trump’s threats to the country as “the sound of a dog barking”.

He is also on Twitter.

Ri Son-gwon – Olympic man

Ri Son-gwon’s position as head of the group overseeing relations with South Korea – the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the County – made him the lead figure in the talks to get North Korea in the Winter Olympics.

Until 2016 he was a senior armed forces colonel.

He has issued warnings against military exercises in the South, denied his government’s involvement in the 2010 naval incident and trashed South Korean politicians.

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