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(4th LD) N.K. foreign minister arrives in Laos for regional security meeting

All News 19:38 July 24, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more info in 4th para))
By Koh Byung-joon

VIENTIANE, July 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's foreign minister arrived in Laos on Sunday to attend a regional security forum likely to be dominated by Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Ri Yong-ho and a delegation of North Korean officials arrived at Wattay International Airport at around 2:45 p.m., a main gateway to the Laotian capital of Vientiane where regional meetings led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) kicked off earlier in the day.

He didn't make any comments to a group of reporters waiting for his arrival. But when asked if he has any plans to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines, he nodded.

A reporter from South Korea's Yonhap News Agency suffered a facial injury during a scuffle between reporters and Ri's bodyguards at the airport.

Whether North Korea is to hold any talks with China has drawn attention amid the North's deepening isolation from the international community following its repeated missile tests. It drew global condemnation after carrying out its fourth nuclear test earlier this year.

This would also come amid the somewhat stained ties between South Korea and China over Seoul's joint decision with the United States to deploy an advanced missile defense system on the peninsula. Beijing has objected to the plan, saying that it could hurt its strategic security interests.

Ri and Wang were confirmed to have taken the same flight from China to Laos. Both are staying in the same hotel located in central Vientiane.

Wang, who left the airport ahead of Ri, told reporters that both exchanged brief greetings on the way. Asked if he will meet with Ri, Wang answered in Chinese, "Wait until we let you know."

Earlier, an anonymous source close to government matters in Beijing told Yonhap News Agency that preparations are under way to arrange talks between the two, though he said that nothing has yet been determined.

The top diplomats from the two allies will join the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the largest regional security meeting that will take place on Tuesday, the last day of this annual event.

The ARF is a rare international gathering attended by all member countries of the long-halted six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear program.

The six-party talks set up to resolve the North's nuke issue were last held in late 2008. The participating countries are the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.


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