North Korea convenes ambassadors to China, Russia and UN in unusual homecoming

Posted on : 2019-03-20 16:55 KST Modified on : 2019-03-20 16:55 KST
All three figures play important role in North Korea-US negotiations
North Korean Ambassador to China Ji Jae-ryong
North Korean Ambassador to China Ji Jae-ryong

At a delicate time when North Korea and the US continue to argue about who was responsible for the collapse of negotiations in the Hanoi summit, North Korea’s ambassadors to China, Russia and the UN are going home at the same time.

According to sources in Beijing, Ji Jae-ryong, the ambassador to China; Kim Hyong-jun, the ambassador to Russia; and Kim Song, the ambassador to the UN, flew on an Air Koryo flight from Beijing Capital International Airport to Pyongyang on Tuesday afternoon. Considering that these three figures played an important role in the negotiations between North Korea and the US, their simultaneous return is drawing attention.

“Ambassadors to major countries make an abrupt return home when a meeting of diplomats has been convened or when they receive a special request from their home country. It’s unusual for ambassadors to return home simultaneously,” a source said.

Since coming to power, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has convened diplomats’ meetings in July 2015, April 2017 and July 2018. At these meetings, consuls-general and ambassadors from major countries reportedly discuss overarching foreign projects with senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Organization and Guidance Department. Considering that the first session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly is supposed to be held in early or mid-April, some see the diplomats’ meeting as being timed to precede that session.

With no momentum yet building for the resumption of dialogue since the second North Korea-US summit ended without an agreement, some observers suggested the ambassadors may have returned to discuss a new negotiating strategy. In response to Washington’s adamant insistence on intensified sanctions and a package deal in the summit’s wake, the North has countered with Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui’s remarks that Pyongyang “may consider the suspension of negotiations.”

The pivotal roles of the UN, China and Russia on the biggest issue in the negotiations – namely sanctions – have some observers speculating related discussions may take place. China, which joined Russia early last year in calling for the relief and deferment of sanctions, has been stressing the need for “step-by-step, simultaneous measures” even after the Hanoi summit, while indirectly criticizing the package deal approach advocated by the US. On Mar. 11, Kim Song sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanding the removal of sanctions, contending that they were responsible for the collapse of plans to hold the 72nd session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for South-East Asia in North Korea last September.

By Jung In-hwan, Beijing correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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