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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Vietnam is expecting to soon receive North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho and is currently arranging the visit, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed on Thursday.
Reuters previously reported, citing diplomatic sources, that Ri would be visiting the southeast Asian nation for three days starting November 27.
In response to a question from Reuters on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Tra confirmed the plans but suggested that the dates are not yet confirmed.
“We are arranging his visit but maybe (it will be) later than the 27th,” she said, adding that further details would be issued at an appropriate time.
Ri’s trip would be in keeping with North Korean diplomatic engagement efforts in 2018, which at the highest level has seen North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold several key summits with South Korea and the United States.
While 2017 was a year which was dominated by an increase in North Korean WMD related testing and subsequent tensions, 2018 has seen the country switch its focus towards diplomatic engagement and economic development.
These two priorities are possibly linked to Ri’s trip to Vietnam, with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency also reporting earlier in the month that the DPRK foreign minister was seeking a visit to learn about and discuss Hanoi’s economic development model.
Recent months, however, have seen a lack of progress on the denuclearization front lead to a stalemate in U.S.-DPRK negotiations.
Sanctions, imposed in response to North Korea’s WMD related activities and programs, are to remain in place, according to Washington, until North Korea denuclearizes.
The current multilateral sanctions regime bans a wide range of trade with North Korea.
In October, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher A. Ford would travel to Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam in order to engage countries on sanctions compliance.
The press release issued at the time said that, while in Vietnam, Ford would discuss “a range of topics including the United States’ continued commitment to upholding UN Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea, implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).”
North Korea’s diplomatic relations with Vietnam date back to the Korean War, with the DPRK later sending military support to the North Vietnamese.
While ties have been very strong at times they have not been without controversy and tension, including in commercial and trade affairs.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Russian foreign ministry