North Korea’s foreign minister will attend ARF

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North Korea’s foreign minister will attend ARF

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a key stage for diplomatic exchanges among regional leaders, is set to kick off this week in Kuala Lumpur, and much interest is being paid to whether the North Korean foreign minister will meet his South Korean counterpart.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong is expected to attend the annual regional security meeting, according to Malaysian officials. South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se is also expected to attend the ARF foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday.

The ARF, hosted by Malaysia, is a rare international conference attended by Pyongyang. This year’s forum follows Iran’s landmark nuclear deal last month with six world powers, and also comes ahead of the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula on Aug. 15 following the end of World War II.

Yun is scheduled to kick off a three-day visit to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday to attend the foreign ministers’ meetings of the ASEAN plus three countries, the East Asia Summit and other related meetings.

Ri and Yun met briefly last year at the ARF meeting in Myanmar but did not hold official talks. Seoul has emphasized it is open to talks with the North Korean foreign minister.

Yoo Chang-ho, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in Seoul on Thursday that South Korea “anticipates that [Ri] will attend the meeting and will make preparations accordingly.”

He added that the ARF would provide a platform for Yun to express Seoul’s positions “on important issues,” such as the North Korean nuclear issue and the South China Sea issue.

South Korean government officials said they are trying their best to include a strong message on the North Korea threat and the situation on the Korean Peninsula in this year’s ARF chairman’s statement.

Officials also pointed out that there are many chances for Ri and Yun to encounter each on the sidelines of ARF meetings, at dinners or at a hotel.

Ri may also hold talks with the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers. Japan and North Korea are stuck on how to resolve the decades-old issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea in the 1970’s.

Kyodo News reported Saturday that Tokyo is arranging talks between Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Ri, quoting Japanese government sources.

Pyongyang will be pressured by Japan to describe the fates of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea by September, though Pyongyang has said it needs more time to investigate.

Likewise, there is interest in what sort of one-on-one discussion Korean and Chinese foreign ministers will hold with their Japanese counterpart, especially ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address to mark Japan’s World War II defeat, and whether he will properly apologize for his country’s wartime misdeeds.

Spokesman Yoo added that if Kishida attends the forum, “Steps could be taken to hold a South Korea-Japan foreign ministers’ meeting.”

Pyongyang has cancelled attendance of all major events in South Korea this year.

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