South Korea envoy meets North Korea's ceremonial head of state in Moscow

North Korean Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong Nam (front) watches the Victory Day Parade in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on May 9, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
North Korean Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong Nam (front) watches the Victory Day Parade in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on May 9, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

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.