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(3rd LD) N. Korean FM to visit New York next week for signing of U.N. climate deal

All News 16:00 April 12, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with Seoul's foreign ministry remarks, experts' views in paras 8-12; ADDS photo)

NEW YORK/SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong plans to visit New York next week to attend the signing of a landmark U.N. climate agreement, a U.N. official said Monday.

The U.N. plans to hold a high-level signing ceremony on April 22 for the so-called Paris Agreement adopted in December to replace the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, and the North's Ri is scheduled to attend the ceremony, an official of the U.N. spokesman's office said.

Ri attended the Paris conference and delivered a speech there.

His visit to New York would mark his first since tensions spiked following the North's fourth nuclear test in January, its long-range rocket launch in February and the adoption of a new U.N. sanctions resolution.

He could also meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but the spokesman's office said that no such meeting has been fixed.

Ri last visited New York in September for the U.N. General Assembly.

The trip could provide opportunities for Ri to hold talks with U.S. officials, though such chances are low considering the international community's ongoing efforts to increase pressure on Pyongyang.

Seoul's Foreign Ministry refused to comment on Ri's reported plan to visit New York, saying that it is "not in a position" to discuss the issue.

Experts raised the possibility that through Ri's visit to the U.N., the reclusive state may seek to create momentum for dialogue with the United States and find a way out of its deepening isolation and stringent international sanctions.

"Wouldn't Ri's planned visit to the U.S. be a signal for dialogue?" said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

"By raising the issue of dialogue, the North could move to turn the situation -- currently focusing on sanctions -- into one that is favorable for dialogue so as to cause a crack in the international cooperation over applying sanctions on the North," he added.

A source familiar with North Korean affairs pointed out that after all, Ri's visit might be intended to show to the international community that the North is still faring well despite international sanctions and isolation.

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