On Friday, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo had said Kim Yong Chol, the leader's righthand man and a counterpart of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the failed summit, had been sent to a labor and re-education camp, citing an unidentified North Korean source.
Kim Yong Chol (far right) was North Korea's top nuclear negotiator during talks recent summits with the US.
Many experts in South Korea believe experienced foreign ministry hands such as Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui are likely to take the lead in North Korea's nuclear diplomacy as it prepares for the possibility of protracted and highly complicated negotiations with Washington.
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At the time, Americans described the deal as excessive, with North Korea demanding sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
KCNA did not mention the status of the other North Korean officials reported to be purged.
"If Kim Jong Un sentences senior officials to hard labour, executes them, or puts them in political prison camps over the collapse of meetings, then no official would be willing to step up in external negotiations", Cheong said. It added that Kim Yong-chol is going through hard labor in a remote province.
There had been speculation about the fate of Kim Yong-chol after a South Korean newspaper reported last week that he had been subjected to forced labour and "ideological education".
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The idea that Kim Yong Chol had been purged post-Hanoi also appeared to be contradicted by the fact that he was listed as being reelected to the Supreme People's Assembly, the country's rubber-stamp parliament, and to the State Affairs Commission, a key decision-making body, in mid-April, the NK News website, the sister-site to NK Pro, pointed out. "It's unlikely that Kim would issue extreme punishment unless he's giving up on the talks with the United States".
Asked about the last United States contact with Mr Kim Yong Chol and North Korea in general on Sunday, Mr Pompeo declined to answer, saying: "We conduct our negotiations in private".
South Korean media and the government in Seoul have alleged purges in the past, but in several cases the individuals have later turned up alive and still alongside Kim Jong-un.
In April, Seoul's spy agency said that Kim Yong-chol had been replaced by Jang Kum-chol, an official little known to the outside, as the director of the United Front Department.
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