North Korea has proposed the head of its state-level inter-Korean agency Ri Son Gwon as chief delegate to upcoming high-level inter-Korean talks, South Korea’s unification minister announced on Sunday.
The North reportedly notified the South of the list of delegates on Sunday afternoon.
The North Korean delegation will be led by Ri, currently chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC).
Pyongyang also said that other participants would include vice-chairman of the CPRC Jon Jong Su, director of the CPRC Hwang Chung Song, and vice-minister of Physical Culture and Sports Won Kil U.
Ri Kyong Sik, a member of North Korea’s National Olympic Committee, was also included on the list.
“Our side will continue to discuss the details on the inter-Korean high-level government talks, including the schedule, through the Panmunjom communications channel,” the MOU said in a written statement.
Three of the five North Korean participants belong to the CPRC, set up at the Fourth Session of the 13th Supreme Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK in June 2016.
The establishment of the CPRC accompanied the dissolution of the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, previously a core organization of the United Front Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
The Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea had served as counterpart to Seoul’s unification ministry during previous inter-Korean talks.
The North’s notification came less than one day after the South Korean government informed the North of its choice of delegates.
Seoul named South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon as its chief delegate.
Two additional ministerial-level government officials – Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung and Second Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Roh Tae-kang – will also take part in the talks.
Deputy Director-General at the Prime Minister’s Office, Ahn Moon-hyun, and Vice President of Games Planning for Pyeongchang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games, Kim Ki-hong, were also include in the delegation.
The two Koreas have agreed to hold high-level inter-Korean talks at Peace House in Panmunjom on January 9, on Tuesday.
Ri Son Gwon was appointed as the chairman of the CPRC in December 2016, state outlet the Korean Central News Agency reported at the time.
Ri previously served as an official at the Policy Department of the now-defunct National Defence Commission (NDC).
He was known as the right-hand man of Kim Yong Chol, director of the United Front Department, and appeared at the second round of inter-Korean working-level military talks in October 2006.
Since then, Ri has engaged in various inter-Korean military talks, including in September 2010 to discuss the scattering of anti-North leaflets in the territorial waters of the DPRK.
Ri – then a Senior Colonel in the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and official of the Policy Department of the NDC – participated in a news conference in May 2010 in response to the Lee Myung-bak administration’s claim that the North was responsible for the Cheonan warship incident.
He also participated in meetings of the South-North Joint Committee for the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), which was shut down in February 2016.
Vice-chairman of the CPRC Jon Jong Su served as counterpart to the former South Korean vice-unification minister Hwang Boo-gi during meetings at the now-shuttered KIC in December 2015 – the most recent inter-Korean talks to have taken place.
Cho and Chun from the unification ministry are long-time participants in inter-Korean talks.
Cho in particular has served in North-South talks since the Kim Dae-jung administration as an MOU official, participating in a meeting of vice ministers held in Beijing in 1999 in the aftermath of the first Yeonpyeong naval skirmish.
He also accompanied the late President Roh Moo-hyun to an inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang in 2007.
Fyodor Tertitskiy, an analyst for NK Pro, said that the scope of the upcoming discussions remained uncertain.
“If the DPRK would like to limit the discussion to the Olympic issue only, it can be done without any side losing its face: Olympics are important enough to justify the Minister’s presence,” Tertitskiy said.
He said it is likely, however, that the talks will not be confined to the North’s participation in PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
“However, I would not expect some major agreement being revealed to the public immediately,” Tertitskiy added. “It would have been too sudden, given all maximum pressure rhetoric we were given less than a month ago.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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