PYONGYANG, North Korea - North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has been re-elected to lead the country’s top decision-making body, local media reported on Friday.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, KCNA, Kim was re-elected chair of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) of North Korea for a five year term at the first session of country’s 14th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA).
"The election of the Supreme Leader as chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK is the great political event of crucial historical significance," KCNA said.
The commission was established in 2016 following an amendment to the North Korean constitution. Kim was elected as the first chairman for a term of 3 years.
Yonhap, South Korea's state news agency reported Choe Ryong-hae, considered the closest aide to Kim, was elected to replace Kim Yong-nam as the country's No. 2 leader and nominal head of state, while Premier Pak Pong-ju has been replaced with Kim Jae-ryong, a senior member of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.
"The 91-year-old Kim had served as president of the Presidium of the SPA since 1998. Choe, known as No. 2 and a close aide to leader Kim, will also take the post of first vice chairman of the SAC, apparently bolstering his influence on the country's diplomacy. Under his wing come top nuclear negotiator Kim Yong-chol and others involved in February's summit with the U.S., who were elected as members of the SAC," Yopnhap said.
"Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui has been promoted to first vice foreign minister, signaling she will have greater clout in diplomacy with the U.S. going forward despite the breakdown of February's summit between leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump."
"Choe was also elected as a member of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) and the SPA's foreign affairs commission. She is believed to have replaced Kim Kye-gwan as first vice foreign minister. Kim, a 76-year-old veteran diplomat involved in negotiations with the U.S., was excluded from the list of the parliamentary foreign affairs commission, spawning speculation that he might retire from work due to age and health issues," Yonhap reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message for Kim’s re-election, emphasizing the friendly ties between the two neighbors, the report added.
Experts see the North's latest personnel reshuffle as focusing on strengthening the lineup of its nuclear negotiating team in preparations for future talks with Washington on its nuclear weapons program.
"This appears to reflect leader Kim's intention to actively pursue negotiations with the U.S. aimed at easing sanctions going forward," Cheong Seong-chang, vice president at the Sejong Institute think tank, said Friday.
The summit in Hanoi fell apart as the two leaders failed to find common ground over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with Washington's sanctions relief.
Pyongyang wanted major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear facility. But Washington insisted on what officials described as "a big deal" that called for trading sanctions relief for the dismantlement of all of the North's nuclear and other weapons programs.
Thursday's parliamentary meeting, wherev the re-shuffling took place, coincided with a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump in Washington. The two agreed there was a need for maintaining dialogue with North Korea to peacefully resolve its nuclear issue and Moon disclosed he hoped to hold a fourth inter-Korean summit with Kim. Trump, however, reaffirmed his stance to maintain sanctions on Pyongyang to force it to give up its nuclear weapons program, and hinted a third summit with Kim could occur.