North Korean foreign minister in Moscow

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North Korean foreign minister in Moscow


North Korean Foreign Minister Park Ui-chun, in the hat in the back seat, arrives at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow around 4 p.m. Sunday. [YONHAP]

North Korean Foreign Minister Park Ui-chun arrived in Moscow on Sunday starting a four-day trip to Russia, according to Korean and Russian media yesterday.

His visit to Pyongyang’s former communist ally was made as the North is trying to control growing international criticism of the tension on the Korean Peninsula escalated by the deadly shelling of a South Korean island last month.

Park, who left Pyongyang on Saturday, arrived at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow around 4 p.m. on Sunday, Yonhap News Agency reported. He flew via China, Yonhap said.

During his visit, Park is expected to meet Russian officials including his counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Russian media reported. Voice of Russia said that Park and Lavrov are expected to discuss political issues pertaining to the peninsula.

The artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23 killed four South Koreans including two civilians.

The attack followed North Korea’s disclosure of a new uranium enrichment facility to a visiting American scientist, which could enhance the regime’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.

Amid the North’s growing economic hardship, caused in part by international sanctions against the country for testing nuclear weapons, economic cooperation will be another major issue on the agenda of the Park-Lavrov meeting, Russian media said.

Bilateral trade between North Korea and Russia stood at $50 million to $60 million in 2009 and is expected to double this year.

South Korea’s top delegate to the six-party talks, Wi Sung-lac, is also leaving for Russia today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday, highlighting an intensifying diplomatic competition between the two Koreas to get more sympathy and cooperation from regional powers.

“Wi will go to Russia via Beijing tomorrow morning, meet Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexei Borodavkin, in Moscow on Dec. 15 and fly back home on Dec. 16,” said a ministry official.

Russia, one of the members of the six-party talks to end North Korea’s nuclear program, has shown sympathy toward South Korea over the Yeonpyeong shelling and criticized North Korea. But observers say Russia is still trying to strike a balance between the two Koreas by encouraging the resumption of the stalled six-party talks.

China, North Korea’s closest ally, proposed a meeting of the six-party delegations as a solution to the North’s recent provocations, only to be ignored by South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, which have called for Pyongyang to show a more responsible attitude.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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