North Korea names veteran negotiator for South Korea talks

Delegation leaders for the two Koreas: Ri Son Gwon (left), chairman of North Korea's Committee for Peaceful Reunification, and Cho Myoung Gyon, South Korea's Unification Minister.
Delegation leaders for the two Koreas: Ri Son Gwon (left), chairman of North Korea's Committee for Peaceful Reunification, and Cho Myoung Gyon, South Korea's Unification Minister.PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE, EPA-EFE

Both sides pick government officials in similar positions for first dialogue in over two years

SEOUL • North Korea announced yesterday that Mr Ri Son Gwon, its point man on inter-Korean affairs, will head its delegation for the high-level meeting with South Korea tomorrow.

Mr Ri is chairman of North Korea's Committee for Peaceful Reunification (CPRC), a state-run agency handling inter-Korean affairs, Seoul's Unification Ministry said yesterday, delivering the notification it received after the inter-Korean communications hotline began at 9.30am.

The North's message comes a day after the South offered to send a five-member delegation led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon to the talks scheduled for tomorrow.

Both sides agreed last Friday to hold their first official dialogue in more than two years at the border village of Panmunjom.

Mr Ri had spoken on behalf of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when announcing last Wednesday Pyongyang's willingness to restore the inter-Korean hotline.

The South Korean delegation will include two deputy ministers from the Unification Ministry and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the vice-president of games planning for the Pyeongchang Organising Committee.

Mirroring Seoul's representatives, North Korea drew a list of officials in similar positions in its government, including Mr Ri.

 
 

The others are the vice-chairman of the CPRC, the vice-minister of physical culture and sports, the director of the CPRC and a member of the North's Olympic committee.

Although Mr Cho and Mr Ri have each taken part in a slew of cross-border meetings in the past, the upcoming event is expected to be their first encounter. Both men are viewed as veteran negotiators with vast experience in inter-Korean talks.

Mr Cho, 61, played a key role in preparing for a summit in October 2007 between late South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He served as a secretary under the Roh administration from 2006 to 2008.

Mr Ri has been spotted at 27 meetings held between the two Koreas since 2004. He is considered the right-hand man of Mr Kim Yong Chul, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party.

In his New Year's address, Mr Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to dispatch a North Korean delegation to South Korea's alpine town of Pyeongchang and hoped for the success of the sporting event. South Korea, keen to patch up severed ties with its neighbour, welcomed Mr Kim's overture.

Meanwhile, Mr Chang Ung, North Korea's representative to the International Olympic Committee, said on Saturday that the North is "likely to participate" in the Winter Games slated for Feb 9 to 25.

THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korea names veteran negotiator for S. Korea talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe