North appoints new ‘New York channel’ member at UN

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North appoints new ‘New York channel’ member at UN

A career diplomat and interpreter from North Korea recently replaced deputy UN Ambassador Han Song-ryol, who served as part of the “New York channel,” a key liaison between Pyongyang and Washington.

Jang Il-hoon, former director of the International Organization Bureau at North Korea’s foreign ministry, replaced Han, who stepped down from the post last month and returned to Pyongyang after serving in New York for over three and a half years.

Unlike his predecessor, Jang was not recruited from Pyongyang’s North America division but comes from a traditional career diplomat background and was previously posted as an envoy in Geneva and Grenada.

He also served as an English interpreter in key negotiations in the 1990s including the process that led to the landmark 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the U.S. which obligated Pyongyang to halt its plutonium nuclear weapons program.

Because Pyongyang and Washington do not have formal diplomatic relations, the so-called New York channel acts as Pyongyang’s de facto ambassador to the United States.

Han’s U.S. counterpart, Clifford Hart, who dealt with North Korea’s mission at the United Nations and was also special envoy to the currently dormant six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea, was named consul general in Hong Kong in April. His successor hasn’t been appointed.

Han and Hart have held secret meetings in the past, the latest reportedly in March.

Foreign Policy magazine reported that inside sources said Jang might not have a large influence on North Korea’s policy on U.S. relations but that “Jang’s appearance coincides with a push by Pyongyang to restart talks with the United States.”

Insiders said that Jang speaks English “fluently” and “has been long linked to U.S.-North Korean peace efforts,” according to Foreign Policy.

Washington remains vague on whether it is keeping its end of the New York channel open.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded Wednesday in a press briefing on the issue, “You know we have means of talking with North Korea, but we don’t talk about those in specifics. We do have a full team here very focused on that issue [of denuclearization of North Korea] and having a range of conversations.”

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