North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong will attend a regional meeting of foreign ministers in Malaysia next week, a Malaysian foreign ministry official said Wednesday.
North Korea has informed Malaysia of Ri’s attendance at the ASEAN Regional Forum to be held in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 6, the official told Yonhap News Agency by phone, requesting anonymity.
Whether Ri would attend the forum has been the focus of attention as it could set the stage for a meeting between the two Koreas’ top diplomats.
Ri will be accompanied by Kim Chang-min, director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Bureau of International Organizations, the official added.
South Korea has not formally proposed talks with the North in Malaysia, but it has always been open to dialogue with its communist neighbor, officials here have said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is scheduled to visit the Malaysian capital from Aug. 4-6 to attend a series of ASEAN-related meetings, including the ARF.
Last year, Yun and Ri briefly met each other on the sidelines of the ARF meeting in Myanmar, but they did not hold talks.
The two could encounter again this year, but meaningful talks are unlikely, according to Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Unification Strategy Studies Program at Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based private think tank.
He cited South Korea’s recent efforts to increase international pressure on North Korea over its human rights abuses.
“It’s possible Ri will completely ignore Yun,” he said at a roundtable with reporters. “The main reason North Korea is taking part in the ARF meeting is for its economic interests as it seeks to secure more imports of natural resources from Southeast Asian nations.”
North Korea has bristled at any mention of its human rights situation despite reports of gross abuses, including public executions, torture and holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in concentration camps.
Last month, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a field office in Seoul to monitor and document human rights violations in the North, to which Pyongyang responded with threats of war. In protest, it boycotted the Summer Universiade held in South Korea earlier this month.
North Korea claims the human rights allegations are part of a U.S.-led campaign to topple its regime.
The two Koreas held foreign ministerial talks at ARF meetings in 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2007, after which there were only brief encounters between the ministers in 2008 and 2011.
Aside from a possible meeting between the Koreas, the ARF gathering will also be watched closely for other bilateral meetings, such as between North Korea and China.
Relations between Pyongyang and Beijing have soured over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang has continued to develop despite opposition from its biggest ally and benefactor.
South Korea and the U.S. have repeatedly called on China to play a bigger role in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program.
Those calls have grown since the U.S. and other world powers struck a deal with Iran earlier this month to curb its uranium enrichment program in exchange for extensive sanctions relief.
Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, told reporters Tuesday after meeting with officials in China last week that now is an “important time where North Korea stands at a crossroads between completing its development of nuclear weapons and coming to the negotiating table to discuss its denuclearization.” (Yonhap)
The Korea Herald