By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – North Korea has a new foreign minister with substantial experience of holding talks with the United States and China, according to widespread reports Tuesday.
Ri Yong-ho is believed to have replaced Ri Su-yong, who held the position for barely two years but was appointed to a new Workers’ Party role at a recent major congress in Pyongyang.
The incoming Ri previously served at North Korea’s embassies in Zimbabwe, Sweden and the United Kingdom since the 1970s, but even more significantly he became North Korea’s chief representative to stalled multilateral nuclear talks in 2011.
His past record of taking part in dialogue with Washington and Beijing may offer some hope of relieving tensions between Pyongyang and its neighbors, although his predecessor had also been based in Europe and Africa and had spoken at the United Nations General Assembly.
A South Korean foreign ministry official all but confirmed the change, while cautioning that the North is yet to make an official announcement.
“We have our own intelligence showing that the appointment has been made,” the official was quoted as saying by local news agency Yonhap.
North Korea has indicated that it is willing to open up to the outside world since this month’s party congress, having refrained from the kind of nuclear and rocket tests that drew strengthened UN sanctions earlier in the year.
The reclusive state, however, has also refused to back away from its atomic development ambitions.
Pyongyang’s state media reported Monday that the North is willing to “candidly discuss” any proposals in the name of unity with South Korea.
The Koreas have maintained an uneasy truce since their 1950-53 conflict.
Seoul and Washington are so far yet to be convinced of Pyongyang’s sincerity when it portrays itself as desiring peaceful relations -- the North has repeatedly threatened to attack the two allies.
For now, North Korea’s focus has moved to Africa as it is sending a leading official to Equatorial Guinea this week.
After making a stop in China, parliamentary leader Kim Yong-nam is to witness "the inaugural ceremony of the president of the Equatorial Guinea”, according to Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency.