North Korea named a former army officer who led military and high-level dialogues between the two Koreas as its top diplomat, Yonhap News reported, in a move that can change the course of the stalled nuclear negotiations between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
Foreign envoys in Pyongyang were notified late last week that Ri Son-gwon, the former chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, replaced Ri Yong-ho as the North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yonhap said, citing various sources.
The move, which is yet to be verified by the North’s state media, is likely to be confirmed to resident diplomats at an event scheduled for Thursday in Pyongyang, NK News reported separately.
The apparent replacement of the top diplomat came days after the isolated nation publicly declared that it would not rely on its leader’s personal relationship with Trump, as it does not intend to trade its nuclear weapons for a halt in sanctions.
“There will never be such negotiations as that in Vietnam, in which we proposed exchanging a core nuclear facility of the country for the lifting of some United Nations sanctions,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency cited the minister’s adviser Kim Kye-gwan as saying earlier this month. “There is no need for us to be present in such talks, in which there is only unilateral pressure.”
Since the failure in October last year of the working-level denuclearization talks in Stockholm, Pyongyang has not responded to Washington’s continued demands for another talk and instead stepped up tensions verbally and with weapons tests.
It said late last year that it successfully conducted a “crucial” test at a long-range projectile launch site and had boosted its nuclear-deterrent capabilities.
Kim declared in a speech at the start of the year that a lack of US response in nuclear talks meant he was no longer bound by his pledge to halt major missile tests and would soon debut a “new strategic weapon.”
Declining to go into detail, Kim also left the outside world guessing what “new path” he will take, and how he will deal with the US this year.
The replacement of Ri Yong-ho also coincides with Seoul’s sudden turn to warm inter-Korean ties as the Kim-Trump talks for denuclearization remain in deadlock.
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