Pyongyang sends envoy to Moscow ahead of talks

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Pyongyang sends envoy to Moscow ahead of talks

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho touched down in Russia Monday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with his Moscow counterpart Sergey Lavrov, another diplomatic outreach to a traditional ally before Kim Jong-un holds summits with the leaders of South Korea and the United States.

Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told the country’s state-run news agency TASS that the foreign ministerial meeting will be held today, in which the envoys will discuss the current state and prospects for Russia-North Korea relations, as well as exchange views on “pressing regional and global issues,” while the “focus will be on ways to resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Ri’s visit to Russia comes two weeks after Kim made an unannounced visit to Beijing for a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was the first known time Kim traveled abroad since assuming power in December 2011 following his father’s death, and the first meeting with the head of a foreign government.

Pundits speculated that Xi’s invitation to Kim was a reflection of China’s anxiety that it was bypassed in a recent flurry of diplomatic overtures among Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, and that it perceived its grip over Northeast Asia affairs eroding. For North Korea, it needed Beijing’s backing to ease sanctions, and support from Xi was critical in building its negotiating power with the United States for when Kim meets Trump.

After Beijing, Moscow is known to be Pyongyang’s second most important ally in political and economic terms, an alliance that solidified last year as Washington pressured Beijing to do more to rein in Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which China followed through on.

Russia’s backing is also critical for the North in case it tries to wiggle out of international sanctions during summit talks with the United States, as Moscow is one of five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council, which also includes the United States, China, France and the United Kingdom.

As Ri arrived in Russia Monday, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun wrote that Russia’s recent test launches of a RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile in December and March was a message that the country was keeping a “strategic balance” with the United States.

BY CHUN SU-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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