N. Korea Names Ex-Nuclear Envoy as New Foreign Minister

N. Korea Names Ex-Nuclear Envoy  as New Foreign MinisterN. Korea Names Ex-Nuclear Envoy  as New Foreign Minister

North Korea has named a career diplomat and ex-nuclear envoy with broad experience in negotiating with rivals South Korea and the United States as its new foreign minister, according to a diplomatic letter from Pyongyang.

North Korea’s Embassy in London informed the British government on Monday that former Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has been appointed as the country’s new top diplomat, AP reported.

Some South Korean analysts say Ri’s appointment could be part of a bid to revive long-stalled diplomacy and improve ties with the outside world after Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in February led to international criticism and tough sanctions.

Critics say North Korea turns to empty diplomatic gestures only after ratcheting up animosity in an attempt to win concessions and aid. North Korean diplomats also reportedly take a back seat to the generals and their hardline policies in tense times.

The appointment of Ri probably won’t ease the nuclear standoff anytime soon. The North has dismissed an insistence in Seoul and Washington that talks can resume only after Pyongyang follows through on past nuclear disarmament pledges.

Ri has served as the North’s top envoy to stalled six-nation disarmament talks on his country’s nuclear weapons program and participated in talks with the United States in the 1990s. He also served as the North’s ambassador in London.

In 2011, he met South Korea’s top nuclear envoy in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of a regional security conference and agreed to work toward a resumption of nuclear talks. The agreement was considered a breakthrough at the time, but the nuclear negotiations are still stalled and have not been held since late 2008.

North Korea’s diplomatic letter did not say what happened to the departing foreign minister, Ri Su Yong. But South Korea’s spy agency said on Tuesday that it believes Ri Su Yong was promoted to vice chairman for international affairs of the ruling Workers’ Party after giving his top diplomat job to Ri Yong Ho. The agency did not elaborate.

“With a wealth of experience handling important jobs and participating in crucial talks with the United States and other nations, Ri Yong Ho is likely to be a more skilled negotiator than his predecessor,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

Ri had a close relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He was North Korean ambassador to Switzerland, where Kim studied as a teenager.

“But as foreign minister, he did not show much depth as a negotiator and often did nothing more than parrot Pyongyang’s official lines,” Koh said.