North Korea Appoints Korean Unification Talks Chief as New Foreign Minister

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Japan's Defense Minister Taro Kono speak during a news conference at the Pentagon

North Korea earlier said that it had achieved a bumper crop past year despite typhoons and other unfavorable weather conditions, but experts say that it is suffering chronic shortfalls in food due to global sanctions hampering imports of key farming materials, such as fertilizer.

From 2003 to 2007, he was North Korea's ambassador in London and served as vice foreign minister, representing North Korea at six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

South Korean media are reporting that North Korea has picked a former military officer as its new foreign minister. The outgoing foreign minister held the post for four years, and travelled with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the US-North Korean summits that were held in February and June last year, the agency reported.

Ri's successor has not been identified, but Pyongyang is expected to reveal his successor's name next week.

The usually well-informed outlet, citing multiple unnamed sources in Pyongyang, said Ri would be replaced by Ri Son Gwon, the former chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), who played a prominent role in inter-Korean talks in early 2018.

Ri was a classmate of late leader Kim Jong Il. He served as the North's ambassador to Switzerland and is said to have been a guardian to the country's leader Kim Jong Un when he studied there.

North Korea news said the move, of which there has been no mention in official North Korean media, was part of a major political reshuffle that could have a significant impact on the country's diplomatic stance.

But the list of those who were dismissed in the reshuffle was not released at that time.

But details appeared to come to light with the KCNA report from Saturday on the membership of the 70-strong funeral ceremony committee for one of the country's independence fighters and national heroes.

The fate of Ri and the four others was brought into question after they did not appear at a photo session of the four-day party meeting that ended on the last day of 2019.

North Korea has reportedly replaced its top diplomat Ri Yong-ho.

The talks between North Korea and the United States broke down after the failed Hanoi Summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim.

An official at the South Korean Ministry of Unification said more information will be needed to confirm the reshuffle results.

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