North Korean envoy to United Nations to be replaced: Sources

Mr Ja Song Nam had served as North Korea's permanent representative to the United Nations since 2014.
Mr Ja Song Nam had served as North Korea's permanent representative to the United Nations since 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations was recently dismissed from his post, sources within the UN said Thursday (July 26), which may indicate that Pyongyang is seeking to further cement a fresh diplomatic stance amid ongoing denuclearisation talks.

Ja Song Nam, a 64-year-old diplomat who had served as the North's permanent representative to the UN since 2014, embarked on a trip to Pyongyang via Beijing on Thursday, the sources said. The background and motive behind the North's decision are yet unknown.

The news comes as the US and North Korea are engaged in a flurry of activities on issues surrounding the reclusive nation's denuclearisation.

"Though it may seem like there's a lack of progress in denuclearisation talks, North Korea is implementing the agreements made at the US-North Korea summit in July including the recent signs that point to dismantlement of its Sohae satellite launching station," said Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the Korean Institute for National Unification.

"It may be planning to send a figure more in line with the current situation with a stronger diplomatic presence to New York as its negotiations with the US are entering a new stage."

Ja had often stood at the centre of the UN Security Council as a lone advocate of his country's advance in its nuclear weapons programme.

When tensions surrounding the North's nuclear weapons program reached a new high last year, Ja frequently ignored the international community's call to immediately halt the program and even boycotted US President Donald Trump's speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2017 by leaving the room before his arrival.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to adopt a new approach in dealing with the UN. Critics say that Kim is seeking to gain favour from the international community to lift the layers of sanctions against his country, which act as a key obstacle to its economic growth.

In April, Kim announced the completion of the Byungjin policy - the parallel development of nuclear weapons program and the economy - saying that he plans to focus on achieving economic prosperity instead.

Cho also addressed the possibility that North Korea may be preparing for its leader Kim's attendance at the upcoming UN General Assembly in September.

Though it has yet to be confirmed, both US and South Korean officials have been raising the possibility.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said earlier this month that she "cannot rule out the possibility" of a trilateral summit between the two Koreas and the US at the session, while retired US and UN Korea Forces Commander Gen. Walter Sharp said earlier this week that a second US-North Korea summit may take place.

But critics say that Ja has merely retired due to his age and the change is part of a large-scale personnel reshuffle after Kim recently summoned his ambassadors and heads of overseas missions back to Pyongyang.

According to the sources, an official named Kim Song is expected to replace Ja.

Ja graduated from the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies in 1983, then proceeded to serve as the director-general of the Department for National Reunification Affairs and director of the Institute for Disarmament and Peace of the Foreign Ministry of North Korea from 2005 to 2006.

He took the post of counsellor at his country's permanent mission to the UN in New York from 2000 to 2004, before being appointed as his country's ambassador to the UN.