UN veteran Kang Kyung Wha is South Korea's first female foreign minister

Ms Kang Kyung Wha taking an oath at her confirmation hearing in Seoul on June 7, 2017.
Ms Kang Kyung Wha taking an oath at her confirmation hearing in Seoul on June 7, 2017.PHOTO: EPA/YONHAP

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Moon Jae In on Sunday (June 18) appointed a veteran diplomat as the country's first female foreign minister, tasked with easing tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Kang Kyung Wha, 62, served as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs before becoming a senior policy advisor to UN chief Antonio Guterres this year.

Her appointment comes less than two weeks before Moon's first trip to the US for a summit with President Donald Trump as fears grow over Pyongyang's weapons programme.

The isolated regime has staged a series of missile launches this year, defying global pressure and triggering tightened UN sanctions.

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Kang served at the South's foreign ministry for years before joining the UN.

Her diplomatic experience will help the South navigate tricky waters and tackle sensitive issues with its allies and neighbours, Moon's office said earlier.

Moon, a centre-left politician who took office after the ouster of impeached president Park Geun Hye, has advocated dialogue with the North to bring it to the negotiating table in a break from his conservative predecessors who took a hardline stance against Pyongyang.

Ties with the US have also come under strain recently over a controversial deployment of a US anti-missile system in the South that soured relations with China, which sees it as a threat.

The South under Park agreed last year to install the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system to guard against threats from the North, prompting Beijing to deploy informal economic sanctions against South Korean businesses in April.

Though parts of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system are already in place, Moon this month suspended further deployment, dealing a blow to Washington's regional security policy.

Officially, the delay is to allow for a new, comprehensive environmental impact assessment, but analysts say the move is a strategic delay by Moon to dodge the tricky diplomatic situation he inherited.