Lavrov to visit N Korea amid flurry of diplomatic activity

BEIJING: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was scheduled to travel to North Korea on Thursday for the latest in a string of diplomatic meetings between the rogue Eastern Asian nation and world powers.
Lavrov and his counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, were to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula and other major international and regional issues, according to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Ri had invited Lavrov to visit his country during a rare trip to Moscow in April. Russia and China, which neighbour North Korea, have the relatively closest diplomatic relations with the insular Stalinist state.
“I received an invitation and was glad to accept it. It will be useful for me to understand our North Korean neighbours’ attitude to all the issues,” Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday.
World powers have been seeking an end to North Korea’s nuclear arms programme.
“The denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula should be supported by mechanisms ensuring peace and stability in Southeast Asia,” Lavrov said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.
Wednesday’s announcement came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity, as the North shows signs of warming ties with its estranged neighbour, South Korea, and top officials work to organise a potential summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Also on Wednesday, North Korea’s former spy chief, Kim Yong Chol, boarded a plane in Beijing headed to the United States for talks with top officials, Yonhap reported.
Trump had confirmed on Tuesday via his Twitter account that Kim was headed to New York, as preparatory talks continue for a potentially historic US-North Korea summit, originally planned for Singapore on June 12.
Whether the two leaders can stick to that plan remains to be seen.
Trump called off the summit in a letter to Kim Jong Un last Thursday, citing his “open hostility.” But Trump has since indicated that efforts are ongoing to keep the original date.
North Korea also said it was still open to talks, which, if they take place, are expected to focus on that country’s nuclear programme.
Currently a vice-chairman of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim Yong Chol would be the most senior North Korean figure in years to make an official visit to his state’s traditional arch-enemy.
Another top North Korean aide has been spotted in Singapore, fanning further speculation that the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit is firmly on the cards. — dpa