SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea said Sunday its envoy attending Russia’s World War II anniversary ceremony briefly met North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, a rare high-level encounter between the rival states.
Senior lawmaker Yoon Sang-Hyun, who was representing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye at the Moscow event, met the North’s Kim Yong-Nam on Saturday, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
But it said the two only exchanged pleasantries during their meeting after a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. “During the encounter, Yoon said he hoped inter-Korean relations would improve,” the ministry said in a statement.
Kim, the president of the North’s rubber-stamp parliament, travelled to Russia after leader Kim Jong-Un cancelled his own much-anticipated visit due to what the North’s state media described as internal issues. It would have been his first overseas trip since assuming the leadership in December 2011.
Kim Yong-Nam, 87, frequently travels overseas as Pyongyang’s de facto head of state. The North has no official head of state because its late founding leader Kim Il-Sung is considered to be “eternal president”.
The Moscow meeting came as tensions remain high, punctuated by sporadic minor skirmishes along the border and occasional missile launches by the nuclear-armed North.
On Saturday the North said it had successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile. It separately test-fired three anti-ship cruise missiles off its east coast.
The last high-level meeting between the two Koreas took place in October, when three top-ranking Pyongyang officials made a surprise visit to the Asian Games held in the South.
The two nations at the time agreed to hold high-level talks by early November to discuss mutual concerns. But the talks never took place because of disputes over anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent to the North by Seoul rights activists.