Pyongyang’s envoys went to Europe to talk security

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Pyongyang’s envoys went to Europe to talk security

North Korean diplomatic officials visited Europe twice this month to attend security-related meetings alongside experts from the United States and South Korea.

They likely attended the meetings to voice Pyongyang’s stance on denuclearization, as talks with Washington have stalled.

Multiple South Korean diplomatic sources exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday that a delegation from North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry visited Finland in the second week of October and Austria in the third week. The forums were meant to provide pundits in the private sector a chance to share their thoughts on security issues around the world, but the North dispatched diplomats instead, the South Korean sources said.

One source with knowledge of the forum in Vienna said the North sent Choe Kang-il, acting director general for North American affairs in the Foreign Ministry, to relay Pyongyang’s opinion on U.S.-North Korea negotiations.

The senior diplomat, however, participated in the meeting as an official at a research institute affiliated with the Foreign Ministry, concealing his true title. The forum was attended by security experts from China, Russia, the United States and South Korea.

The local source said that Choe “repeated” the North’s thoughts on denuclearization, but refused to get into the details, saying the forum was off-the-record. Pyongyang had been asking Washington for reciprocal measures to reward its “goodwill steps toward denuclearization,” such as sanctions relief.

The meeting in Finland was held around Oct. 11, other South Korean diplomatic sources said. It was attended by officials from an arms-reduction institute affiliated with the North Korean Foreign Ministry, as well as experts from South Korea and the United States.

Wi Sung-lac, a visiting professor of political science and international relations at Seoul National University and a retired diplomat who joined South Korea’s delegation for the six-party denuclearization talks in 2003 and 2004 as deputy chief negotiator, said that the North wanted a chance to be heard by the United States.

“South-North relations are making huge progress, but North Korea’s relationship with the United States isn’t, as talks on denuclearization are being delayed,” said Wi. He added that the regime probably sent its diplomats to the international forums to highlight its request for reciprocal measures from Washington.

Chin Hee-gwan, a professor of unification studies at Inje University in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, said Pyongyang seemed poised to reach out to Moscow if Washington fails to deliver. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Sin Hong-chol’s recent visit to Russia and his planned meeting with his Russian counterpart Monday seemed to hint at that, Chin said.

“As China distanced itself from North Korea lately after U.S. President Donald Trump protested the cozy relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang,” Chin said. “The North is making full use of its friendship with Russia.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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