NK picks inter-Korean point man for talks

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - North Korea picked Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, as the point man for the delegation to South Korea for talks on PyeongChang 2018 on Jan. 9.

North Korea announced Sunday that Ri Son-gwon, its point man on inter-Korean affairs, will be the head of its delegation for upcoming high-level meeting with South Korea.
 
“According to its list (of delegates), North Korea’s chief delegate will be Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country,” Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Sunday, delivering the notification it received after the inter-Korean hotline communications began at 9:30 a.m. 

The North’s message comes a day after the South offered to send a five-member delegation led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon to the talks scheduled for Tuesday. Both sides agreed Friday to hold their first official dialogue in more than two years at the border village of Panmunjeom. 

Ri is the current chairman of the CPRC, a state-run agency handling inter-Korean affairs. The ranking military official, also spoke on behalf of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, when announcing Pyongyang’s willingness to restore the inter-Korean hotline. 

The South Korean delegation will also include two deputy ministers from the Unification Ministry and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism along with Vice President of Games planning for PyeongChang Organizing Committee. 

Mirroring Seoul’s representatives, North Korea drew a list of officials holding similar positions in its government including Ri. Jon Jong-su, Vice Chairman of the CPRC; Won Kil-u, Vice Minister of Physical Culture and Sports; Hwang Chung-song, Director of the CPRC; and Ri Kyong-sik a member of the DPRK Olympic Committee. DPRK is the abbreviation for North Korea‘s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Although both Cho and Ri participated in a number of cross-border meetings in the past, the upcoming event is expected to be their first encounter. Both are viewed as veteran negotiators with vast-experiences in inter-Korean talks. 

Cho, 61, played a key role in preparing for the summit in October 2007 between late President Roh Moo-hyun and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. He served as a secretary under the Roh administration in 2006-2008. 

Ri, on his part, was spotted at a total of 27 meetings held between the two Koreas since 2004. He is known as the right-hand man of Kim Yong-chul, the vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers‘ Party, who is allegedly behind the sinking of the South Korean navy corvette Cheonan in 2010, killing 46 sailors. 

“The South and North will continue to discuss the details of the inter-Korean government talks through the Panmunjeom communications channel,” Unification Ministry further added on the matter. 

Respective members of both side’s Olympics organizing committee will also come face-to-face on Tuesday, which is forecast to fuel discussions on the fast-approaching PyeongChang Olympics. 

In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to dispatch a North Korean delegation to South Korea’s alpine town of PyeongChang and hoped for the success of the sporting event. South Korea, keen to patch-up severed ties with its wayward neighbor, welcomed Kim’s overture with open arms. 

Washington has agreed to South Korea’s proposal in postponing the annual joint military drill, which was initially scheduled to overlap with the Olympics. North Korea considers such exercises as rehearsals for invasion, although allies have reiterated its defensive nature. 

Chang Ung, North Korea’s representative to the International Olympic Committee, told reporters Saturday the reclusive nation is “likely to participate” in the Winter Games slated for Feb. 9-25. 

Chang said this during a stopover at Beijing‘s international airport, while he was traveling to Switzerland, where the IOC headquarters are located, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency. He is expected to meet with IOC President Thomas Bach and other committee officials throughout his stay and head back to Pyongyang around Jan. 15, media reports here said, quoting unnamed IOC sources. 

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