North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho was Thursday afternoon spotted at Beijing’s Capital International Airport, believed to be on his way to high-profile meetings in Vietnam and Syria.
Ri, who South Korean media report is accompanied by between five to six officials, was said to have been greeted at the airport by DPRK Ambassador to China Ji Jae Ryong and his staff.
Japan’s Kyodo News Agency, which has a bureau in the DPRK capital, reported that he was seen off at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport by Vietnam’s ambassador to North Korea Le Ba Binh and Syrian ambassador Tamman Suleiman.
He will reportedly depart for an indirect flight to Hanoi later in the day.
Ri is expected to stay in Vietnam until Sunday, and will meet reportedly meet with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and foreign minister and deputy prime minister Pham Binh Minh, in his second high-level meeting with Vietnamese officials this year.
His visit has sparked speculation that the North Koreans will use the trip as an opportunity to discuss economic reform, and potential lessons Pyongyang can learn from Vietnam’s “doi moi” program of liberalization in the 1980s.
South Korean media reports that he will also visit industrial parks in Haiphong, a port city in the northeast of the country.
Following his four-day stay, Ri will head to Syria, a diplomatic source with knowledge of the plans told NK News on Wednesday – the first visit by a DPRK foreign minister to Damascus in over four years.
That visit will likely see Ri and Syrian officials iron out arrangements for a planned summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Pyongyang, as well as discuss the two countries’ longstanding economic, political, and military ties.
His departure abroad also comes amid reports in South Korean press that U.S. officials have asked that Ri take over responsibilities for negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang on the nuclear issue.
U.S. officials are reportedly displeased with current chief negotiator Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and director of the United Front Department, due to his brash style and “hostile” approach.
Kim was previously expected to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier in the month, though the meeting was later called off by the North Korean side.
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Featured Image: vista from the airport to the city by the measure of mike on 2012-02-26 02:55:01