- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2018

North Korea’s top three military officials appear to have been replaced, according to reports, potentially paving the way for a denuclearization deal at the Singapore summit next week.

The three military leaders were replaced with younger and more moderate figures, according to multiple reports, including Reuters and South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Analysts described it as a move toward opening the reclusive communist regime in preparation for the historic June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

The shake up included the replacement of defense chief Pak Yong-sik by Ministry of People’s Armed Forces No Kwang-chol; chief of general staff Ri Myong-su by his deputy, Ri Yong-gil, according to the reports.

Earlier, Kim Jong-gak , director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, was replaced with Army Gen. Kim Su-gil, which was confirmed last month by North Korean state media.

The shake-up could allow Mr. Kim and the ruling party to tighten control over the Korean People’s Army (KPA) at a critical time of international engagement and domestic development.

“If Kim Jong Un is set on making peace with the U.S. and South Korea and dealing away at least part of the nuclear program, he will have to put the KPA’s influence in a box and keep it there,” Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, told Reuters.

“This reshuffle has brought to the fore the officers who can do just that. They are loyal to Kim Jong Un and no one else,” he said.

On another front, the South Korean military said Seoul and Washington would refrain from publicizing future joint military exercises.

South Korea did not say the exercises would be cancelled or scaled down, according to a report by North Korea News, a South Korea-based news service.

U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and South Korea National Defense Minister Song Young-moo agreed to minimize publicity of upcoming exercises.

They met Saturday in Singapore as part of preparations for the Trump-Kim meeting next week.

Pyongyang has viewed the annual U.S.-South Korea military drills as a provocation or a threat.

The presence of U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighters in the recent Max Thunder Exercise caused a political flare up with the North.

Pyongyang last month threatened to cancel the Singapore summit because of the use of the fighter jets and called off a high-level meeting with South Korea.

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