People’s Armed Forces Minister Kim Il-chol is one of the “Troica,”
or three military strongmen along with General Cho Myong-rok and
People’s Army Chief of Staff Kim Yong-chun. Kim Il-chol is also
military councilor of the Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee
and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.
His international fame grew after he visited South Korea for the
first inter-Korean talks between defense ministers in 2000, traveling
by land through the truce village of Panmunjom. He and then South
Korean Defense Minister Cho Sung-tae agreed on measures to remove
threats of aggression and hold regular meetings between defense
Kim has also held key naval posts including deputy chief of staff
(1968) and chief of staff (1971). As a lieutenant admiral in 1982,
he was named deputy naval commander and later moved up to commander
in 1985 and admiral in 1992. Five years later, he was promoted to
deputy commander-in-chief and first deputy chief of the People’s
Armed Forces Ministry.
After a government reshuffle in 1998, Kim was named vice chairman
of the National Defense Commission. Two days later, he took over
as head of the People’s Armed Forces Ministry, a post which had
been left vacant for almost 18 months after the death of Choe Kwang.
Kim’s appointment completed the “Troica” with Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok
and People’s Army Chief of Staff Kim Yong-chun.
Kim Il-chol streamlined the North Korean navy by building modern
vessels, large submarines and underwater passages and bases. His
efforts gained him the trust of the late North Korean leader Kim
Il-sung. Balding, short and introverted, he drew wide attention
in the 2000 inter-Korean defense talks for his drinking.