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(2nd LD) Senior N.K. diplomat departs for Russia

All Headlines 18:01 November 18, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES first 3 paras with KCNA report; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, considered leader Kim Jong-un's top strategist in nuclear negotiations with the United States, departed for Russia on Monday, the North's state media reported.

A delegation of the North's foreign ministry, led by Choe, left Pyongyang for a Russia visit, the Korean Central News Agency said without elaborating.

"On November 18, at Sunan International Airport Ambassador A. Matsegora saw off member of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, First Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK Choe Son Hui who left on a visit to Russia," the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang also said in a post on its official Facebook page earlier in the day. DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The exact purpose of Choe's visit remains unknown, but she is expected to hold meetings with Russian officials about how to expedite negotiations with the U.S., Kyodo News reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

Last month, the U.S. and North Korea held working-level nuclear negotiations in Sweden for the first time since the no-deal breakdown of February's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi, but no progress was made.

The North has given the U.S. until the end of the year to put forward a new proposal that could break the deadlock in their nuclear talks, saying that otherwise, it would be compelled to give up on negotiations and choose to take a "new way."

In an effort to avoid provoking Pyongyang, the U.S. and the South announced Sunday the postponement of joint wintertime air exercises that had been set for later this month. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged the North to reciprocate the goodwill by returning to nuclear talks.

In Washington, Trump also urged the North's leader on Sunday to "act quickly" and reach a deal with him on dismantling the regime's nuclear weapons program. Trump suggested that they meet again soon.

"I am the only one who can get you where you have to be," he tweeted. "You should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!"

Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexandre Machegora (L) sees North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui off at Sunan Airport in the North's capital prior to her departure for Moscow on Nov. 18, 2019, in this photo captured from the Facebook account of the Russian mission. The embassy confirmed Choe's trip, but did not elaborate on its purpose. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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