Ri Thae Song, a North Korean diplomat with experience in multilateral dialogue, was recently promoted to vice foreign minister, reports from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and DPRK state media confirmed on Friday.
A statement on this week’s visit to Pyongyang by a Russian MFA delegation reported Ri — who previously served as a Deputy Director General at the DPRK foreign ministry — had attended high-level meetings with counterpart Igor Morgulov on Thursday.
“On August 15, the Deputy Minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation, Mr. I.V. Morgulov, and Vice Minister of foreign affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ri Thae Song, held consultations in Pyongyang,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
North Korean state media later on Friday confirmed his new position, reporting on Morgulov’s meetings with Ri and other officials from the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) this week.
“During the stay the Russian vice foreign minister met and had a talk with Choe Son Hui, first vice foreign minister, and talks with Ri Thae Song and Im Chon Il, vice foreign ministers, respectively,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Ri’s promotion to among the highest ranks of North Korea’s diplomatic corps comes at a noteworthy time, with the U.S. and North Korea expected to begin long-stalled working-level talks at some point in the next few weeks.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is also set to visit South Korea next week.
Ri was last spotted at the June 30 DPRK-U.S. summit at Panmunjom, where he was seen holding informal talks with Special Representative Biegun.
Officials from South Korea’s intelligence service last month told lawmakers that they believed Ri had been promoted to deputy minister and that he was likely leading the North Korean MFA’s new U.S. strategy.
June’s summit saw North Korea and the U.S. agree to restart working-level negotiations, with President Donald Trump saying both sides were set to “designate a team, and the team will try and work out some details.”
U.S. officials have as yet been reticent to confirm the make-up of Pyongyang’s new negotiators, however, following a reported purge of some of the DPRK’s top diplomats in the aftermath of the failed Hanoi summit in February.
“North Korea generally doesn’t publicize much about its internal decision-making,” a State Department official said earlier in the month. “We have confidence that we know the people with whom we’ll be working, and we’re prepared to engage with them as soon as they’re ready.”
The State Department did not respond to NK News‘s inquiries about Ri Thae Song’s promotion.
His promotion brings the number of deputy ministers known to be working under Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho to seven.
In addition to Choe Son Hui, who replaced Kim Kye Gwan as First Vice Foreign Minister earlier in the year, Im Chon Il, Ri Kil Song, Sin Hong Chol, Ho Yong Bok, and Pak Myong Guk are known to be serving as vice foreign ministers.
Ri previously visited Beijing in January 2019, where he held a meeting with Singaporean ambassador to China Stanley Loh and officials at the Venezuelan embassy and was described as Pyongyang’s “ambassador-at-large.”
The previous year also saw him named as MFA Deputy Director General as part of an official DPRK delegation to the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue multilateral forum in Beijing, alongside other high-ranking DPRK diplomats working on the North America portfolio. He also traveled to Indonesia that year.
It’s unclear what he did prior to his foreign ministry posting, though a 2011-dated document from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) lists a “Mr. Ri Thae Song” as Director of the Foreign Economic Department of the Korea Coal Foreign Economic Cooperation Company (KCFECC).
NK News was unable to confirm whether this document refers to the same Mr. Ri.
Colin Zwirko contributed reporting
Featured image: Singaporean embassy in Beijing