North Korea makes headway at Asean gathering

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North Korea makes headway at Asean gathering

Pyongyang had an unexpectedly successful run at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) regional forum over the weekend in Myanmar, where North Korea’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong made his diplomatic debut on the global stage.

Ri, who became foreign minister in April, held rare talks with both his Japanese and Chinese counterparts along the sidelines of the summit in Naypyitaw, though a separate meeting was not held between the North and South Korean delegates.

Seoul, on the other hand, struggled to make any significant progress regarding the issue of North Korean denuclearization.

Ri and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held informal talks on Sunday on the sidelines of the annual security meeting, the largest of its kind in Asia, where foreign ministers urged Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arms and missile program.

Kishida told reporters on Sunday after the exchange that he “conveyed Japan’s views on the probe by a special investigation committee [established by Pyongyang focused on resolving the abduction issue] and the [North’s] missile and nuclear issues.”

On July 4, Tokyo lifted some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea in return for the launch of a special committee to investigate the whereabouts of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang agents from 1977 to 1983.

But further details on the exact format and details of the talks between Ri and Kishida over the weekend were scarce.

The talks mark the first contact between the Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers in 13 months, as well as the highest level of contact between the two countries since they resumed intergovernmental talks in March to resolve the abduction issue. Ri also held a rare bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not elaborate on their talks except to say that the meeting was “an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and issues of common concern.”

A former ambassador to Switzerland, Ri is believed to have served as a guardian to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who studied there as a teenager in the 1990s.

Japan, likewise, saw similar headway in Myanmar.

When trilateral talks among Tokyo, Seoul and Washington were delayed, Kishida was able to fit in unscheduled last-minute “unofficial” talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yi on Saturday. The meeting was the first of its kind between the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers since the inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Afterward, Kishida told reporters the “long, relaxed talks” focused on how to improve relations.

The Japanese foreign minister also held bilateral talks on the same day with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

South Korean officials determined during the security summit that there was a “low likelihood” of such contact between Pyongyang and Tokyo or Beijing, and China and Japan.

BY JEONG WON-YEOB, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]




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