06/18/2022, 08.00
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Pyongyang’s new top diplomat might signal thaw with US

Choe Son-hui, an expert on the United States, replaced the Ri Son-gwon, a hardliner. With the country struggling with COVID-19 and an enduring economic crisis, Kim Jong-un might be seeking some opening. However, before moving on the nuclear programme, he wants Washington to ease sanctions and offer economic compensation.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Changes in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry signal possible room for dialogue with the United States, this according to Seoul-based Daily NK, citing high-level sources in Kim Jong-un's regime.

At a recent meeting of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers' Party, which has ruled North Korea since the end of World War II, Kim promoted Choe Son-hui to the top position in the Foreign Ministry. Choe, who was the Deputy Foreign Minister, replaces Ri Son-gwon at the helm of the ministry.

North Korea’s top diplomat is an expert on the United States. In 2018-2019 she led negotiations – which eventually stalled – with the Trump administration.

The Daily NK, which is linked to South Korea’s Ministry for Unification, reports that Choe is one of the few top North Korean officials who can talk one-on-one with Kim.

Choe fell out of favour in 2020 with her boss at the ministry, Ri, but will in all likelihood be called to review her predecessor’s hard-line approach towards Washington.

North Korea is isolated from the international community (except for China and to a lesser extent Russia), and has been under a regime of international sanctions for years over its nuclear and missile programmes.

After three summit meetings and apparent good relations with Donald Trump, nuclear talks with Washington have stalled.

North Korea has been struggling under an enduring economic crisis, aggravated by a recent wave of COVID-19 cases. After the outbreak of the pandemic two years ago, North Korean authorities denied that it was present in the country.

Against this background, Pyongyang needs to reduce international pressure, which increased after its latest missile tests.

If talks with Washington do resume under Choe, North Korea will try to get its negotiating point of view acknowledged, expecting the US to first ease sanctions and offer economic compensation. Only then will Pyongyang move to suspend nuclear tests and freeze its nuclear programme.

However, US policy runs in the opposite direction, with Washington concerned about the number of nuclear warheads already in North Korea’s arsenal, 40 to 50 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

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