Top North Korean diplomat Ri Su Yong left Pyongyang on Tuesday to lead a delegation of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) to Laos, state-run outlet the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Ri is believed to be part of a group of officials spotted arriving at the North Korean embassy in Beijing after arriving in the Chinese capital Tuesday morning, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Serving multiple roles as a member of the Political Bureau, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the WPK, and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), Ri is a key member of Kim Jong Un’s inner circle, and has led similar delegations abroad to allied nations in recent months.
In Vientiane, he is expected to address party-to-party relations with top government officials of the ruling socialist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP).
The most recent high-level contacts between the two countries came last December with a visit of a delegation from the Lao foreign ministry to Pyongyang, and before that a delegation from the LPRP also to the DPRK capital for the September 9 foundation day celebrations.
Prior to that, a “delegation of the DPRK-Laos Friendship Association headed by Cha Hui Rim, chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee and concurrently chairman of the Association” traveled to Laos in July 2018, according to KCNA.
Ri Su Yong most recently traveled with Kim Jong Un by train through China as part of the delegation to Hanoi to both hold a second summit with the U.S. President and make an official state visit to Vietnam.
That visit saw Ri lead a delegation of other top officials on visits to economic sites such as a new automobile manufacturing plant, agriculture industry companies, and even a telecommunications company run by the Vietnamese defense department.
He then joined Kim Jong Un for meetings with top Vietnamese officials, sitting directly by the North Korean leader’s side during expanded party-to-party talks.
Prior to that trip, Ri led an art troupe delegation to Beijing in January, where he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping over strengthening bilateral ties, and last summer led a delegation for a week-long trip to Cuba.
The KCNA report on his delegation’s departure Tuesday did not say when he is expected to arrive in Vientiane or if there are any planned formal talks with Chinese officials on either side of the trip.
Also in Beijing this week is the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, who arrived Sunday “to continue U.S.-China coordination on policies related to North Korea,” according to a response from the U.S. embassy to the South China Morning Post.
Biegun’s trip follows the sudden cancellation by President Donald Trump via tweet last Friday of new sanctions on the DPRK, though official details of the action reportedly incoming from the Treasury Department failed to surface elsewhere.
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have yet to resume since both sides left the Hanoi summit without a deal.
Biegun has spent the time since the summit meeting with allies and others over how to move forward with sanctions on North Korea.
He first visited the UN headquarters in New York on March 14 to discuss with the “Security Council and key Permanent Representatives” the outcomes of the Hanoi summit as well as “efforts to ensure full implementation of relevant DPRK-related UN Security Council resolutions until the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”
He then traveled to London “to meet with UK, French, and German counterparts” on March 19 to discuss similar issues, according to the State Department.
But as officials travel to China and elsewhere to work out the next steps in negotiations, Kim Jong Un last week sent his chief secretary to Russia, possibly in preparation for his long-awaited summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Various outlets including Japan’s NHK spotted Kim – considered one of the North Korean leader’s closest confidantes – in Moscow as early as March 19.
He was then seen in Vladivostok on Monday, before departing for Pyongyang the same day.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCTV
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