North Korea’s Kim Jong-un appoints a new military commander with expertise in artillery, as it presses ahead with its nuclear weapons program while prospects of denuclearization talks with the US appear to be “disappointing.”Pyongyang has named army general Pak Jong Chon as the “Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army,” said the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
It said that the decision was announced during a meeting attended by leader Kim Jong-un.
Pak succeeds Ri Yong Gil, who is an expert on military operations.
The new appointment has raised speculations that Pyongyang was planning to focus on new weapons development, according to Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and researcher in South Korea’s capital, Seoul.
He also said that Pyongyang was particularly threatened by the South’s acquisition of US F-35 stealth fighter jets earlier this year.
“It is also notable that Pak accompanied Kim during the North’s test-firing of its new weapons,” he said, while referring to a test-fire of what Pyongyang described as “new-type tactical guided missiles” in August.
The new military chief was also present when Kim oversaw the test of a “newly developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system” in July, KCNA reported at the time.
“With him as the North’s top military officer, it’s more likely that Pyongyang will prioritize artillery along with its new weapons system,” Ahn added.
Pak’s promotion from head of the Korean People’s Army’s Artillery Command came at a time when working-level talks between the North and the US remain stalled, as they have been since the failure of the second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim in Vietnam.
Following the failure of the summit, the North repeatedly warned that it was considering ending talks on denuclearization and resuming its nuclear and missile tests over what it described as “the gangster-like stand” of the US
Pyongyang also warned last week that its expectations for an agreement with Washington were “disappearing.”
Washington has so far refused to offer any sanctions relief in return for several unilateral steps already taken by North Korea. Pyongyang has also demolished at least one nuclear test site and agreed to allow international inspectors into a missile engine test facility.