UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS) - North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho will not attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations later this month "due to his schedule", the country's mission to the UN told Reuters.
Mr Ri has attended the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York for the past three years. North Korea was initially listed on a tentative speaking schedule - dated July 10 - again to be represented at ministerial level, but a revised agenda issued last Friday (Aug 30) downgraded Pyongyang's representation.
North Korea's UN Ambassador Kim Song is now expected to address the 193-member world body on Sept 30, the second last speaker for the week-long gathering.
The United States is trying to kick-start stalled talks with North Korea aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes. The UN Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for those programmes.
North Korea's UN mission appeared to play down the absence of Mr Ri, the country's former chief nuclear negotiator, saying that Pyongyang has been represented at various levels in the past.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
North Korean ally and neighbour China has encouraged the talks process and China's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, visited Pyongyang this week.
US President Donald Trump has met North Korea leader Kim Jong Un three times, most recently in June when he became the first sitting US president to set foot in North Korea at the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas.
They agreed then to reopen working-level negotiations, but that has not happened and since February, North Korea has demanded that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be replaced with a "more mature" person in the US negotiating team, while lauding the rapport built between Mr Kim and Mr Trump.
Last month, Mr Ri called Mr Pompeo the "diehard toxin of the US diplomacy" who employs "hackneyed sanctions rhetoric".
Mr Ri and Mr Pompeo met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year. They were also both part of a summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim in Vietnam in February.
North Korea's KCNA news agency last Saturday quoted its Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as saying that a recent remark by Mr Pompeo about "North Korea's rogue behaviour" will make talks with the United States more difficult.
The situation has been further complicated by a series of missile launches by North Korea since June, which it says have been in protest against US-South Korea joint military exercises and the adoption of new weapons.
The UN Security Council has met twice behind closed-doors at the request of Britain, France and Germany to discuss the launches. The 15-member council demanded in 2006 that Pyongyang suspend its ballistic missile programme and stop launches.