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N. Korean FM confirms new top envoy to nuclear talks

All Headlines 14:16 July 22, 2011

By Kim Deok-hyun

BALI, Indonesia, July 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun confirmed Friday that Pyongyang has appointed its new chief negotiator to six-country talks on ending the North's nuclear program, in the first confirmation of a change in leadership for its nuclear negotiating team.

Pak confirmed that Ri Yong-ho, the North's vice foreign minister, would be its top envoy to the six-party talks at a bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum on this Indonesian resort island of Bali.

For years, North Korea's Kim Kye-gwan served as his country's top negotiator, but he was promoted to the post of first vice foreign minister last October. Since then, South Korean officials have widely expected Ri to succeed Kim as top envoy.

"Vice Foreign Minister Ri is serving as our chief delegate to the six-party talks," said Pak, introducing Ri to Yang before the two sides began talks at a seaside hotel in Bali.

The Chinese foreign minister greeted Ri with a nod.

The bilateral talks between North Korea and China came as South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, proposes talks with Ri during the ASEAN forum, possibly in an attempt to reopen the long-stalled six-party talks.

The six-party nuclear disarmament talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since late 2008 after North Korea stormed out of the process after a new round of U.N. sanctions.

Efforts to resume the multilateral process have been complicated by the North's recent series of military provocations, together with its self-confessed uranium enrichment program.

South Korea, the U.S. and other six-party members are pushing to reopen the six-party nuclear dialogue forum in a three-step approach in which North Korea will meet South Korea first, then the U.S., for one-on-one talks on denuclearization.


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