North Korea has reportedly replaced its top diplomat Ri Yong-ho.
The North notified foreign ambassadors based in Pyongyang of its recent appointment of Ri Son Gwon as foreign minister, the South's Yonhap news agency quoted unidentified sources as saying Sunday. He was the chief representative to the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Ri's replacement has not been identified but Pyongyang is set to reveal his successor about next Thursday, the report said, citing unnamed sources.
Unlike his predecessor, Ri Son Gwon does not have any experience in dealing with nuclear issues or U.S. officials, though he has led high-level talks between the neighbours.
His appointment assumes significance in the wake of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's New-Year address wherein he had proposed that the two Koreas should make concerted efforts to create conditions for North Korean leader's visit to South Korea.
As the young North Korean leader oversaw a number of short-range ballistic missile launches in the past year, the number of military and arms industry officials appearing in public with Kim Jong Un has increased sharply.
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There are also reports that Ri Su Yong, vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea overseeing global relations, has also stepped down. But in April he was named to the foreign affairs panel of the Supreme People's Assembly, the country's parliament, and was most recently seen at a meeting of the party's policy-making central committee in December.
Ri Son-gwon, if confirmed, will replace Ri Yong-ho, a seasoned career diplomat, probably signaling that the communist state may reshape its policy toward Washington and Seoul.
The talks between North Korea and the United States broke down after the failed Hanoi Summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim.
Ri Yong-ho was also absent from the final-day photo session of the recent party meeting, sparking speculation about his whereabouts. He served as the North's representative to the United Nations mission in Geneva and ambassador to Switzerland during the 1980s, Michael Madden, an expert on North Korean leadership and a fellow at the U.S-based Stimson Center, wrote on the North Korean-watching 38 North blog in 2014.