N Korea appoints hardline ex-army officer as new foreign minister

27-Jan-2020 Intellasia | The Guardian | 6:02 AM Print This Post

North Korea has appointed a former army officer with a reputation as a hardliner as its foreign minister, in a possible sign that it is to adopt a tougher stance in nuclear negotiations with the United States.

After days of speculation, the KCNA state news agency confirmed on Friday that Ri Son-gwon who has little diplomatic experience had replaced Ri Yong-ho, an English-speaking career diplomat who took part in nuclear talks with Washington.

Analysts said it was too early to tell if the appointment of Ri Son-gwon, who is also a senior official in the ruling Workers’ party, would herald a new approach to nuclear talks.

“Having a former army officer as its top diplomat symbolises the North’s uncompromising stance against Washington,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and researcher in Seoul, told Agence France-Presse.

Former army officer Ri Son-gwon has been appointed foreign minister of North Korea. (Reuters)

Former army officer Ri Son-gwon has been appointed foreign minister of North Korea. (Reuters)

“It’s very rare for someone with military background to be tapped as Pyongyang’s foreign minister.”

Ri, who has no experience of dealing with nuclear issues or US officials, has seen his stocks rise quickly in the past year. He was appointed to the foreign affairs panel of the North Korean parliament last April and was seen at a meeting of the party’s policymaking central committee in December.

During his 15-year involvement in inter-Korean talks, Ri earned a reputation as a tough negotiator. He reportedly stormed out of the room during military talks with South Korea in 2014 after Seoul demanded an apology for the North’s military provocations. A senior state department official said Washington was aware of Ri’s appointment and hoped North Korea would resume denuclearisation talks.

“There’s nothing to be gained by not talking,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “It’s only to their benefit, so we encourage them to talk.

“It is slow, patient, steady diplomacy. We’re going to stick with that plan.”

Ri Yong-ho appears to have been sidelined after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and the US president, Donald Trump, failed to agree on sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return during their second summit in Hanoi last February.

Ri’s absence from a group photograph of top party executives at the December meeting prompted speculation about his future.

“Ri Yong-ho is the official who was effectively sidelined after the Hanoi meetings and was removed from office because the interlocutors selected by the foreign ministry appeared not to accomplish anything,” Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Stimson Centre, told Reuters.

Ri Son-gwon’s appointment comes soon after Pyongyang declared it was no longer bound by its self-imposed moratorium on long-range ballistic missile and nuclear tests, and Washington missed the North’s end-of-year deadline for a breakthrough in nuclear talks.

Pyongyang had demanded the easing of international sanctions, while Washington insisted it took more tangible steps towards giving up its nuclear weapons.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/24/north-korea-appoints-hardline-ex-army-officer-as-new-foreign-minister

 


Tags:

Category: Korea

Print This Post