Seven North Korean officials were to arrive in South Korea late Wednesday to attend an international peace forum.
The delegation includes Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Kim Song-hye, director of the United Front Department’s tactical office, and five other North Korean officials, the Ministry of Unification said earlier this week. They plan to stay here from Wednesday to Saturday.
|Kim Song-hye, director of the North Korean United Front Department`s tactical office stands behind North Korean leader`s sister Kim Yo-jong, during their visit to South Korea for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in February. (Yonhap)|
According to a Gyeonggi Province government official, the delegation will stay at The MVL Hotel in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, for four days upon arriving via Incheon Airport. The MVL Hotel is the venue for Friday’s international forum on Asia-Pacific peace and prosperity, co-hosted by Gyeonggi Province and the Asia-Pacific Association.
The delegation’s itinerary includes visits to key facilities in the province, including a local agriculture technology center on Thursday. Most of Thursday’s schedule remained undisclosed at North Korea’s request.
Lunch and dinner with Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Lee Hae-chan, chief of the ruling Democratic Party, are being considered, a source close to the matter said.
Given Ri and Kim’s roles in the North Korean government, observers expect low-key negotiations behind the scenes. As a member of the North’s intelligence agency, Kim was part of the delegation for the US-North Korea summit held in Singapore in June. She was also spotted alongside the North’s nominal head of state Kim Yong-chol during a visit to the US in May, as well as during a trip by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong to South Korea for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in February.
Ri is a veteran negotiator in inter-Korean affairs, who was involved in launching cross-border tours to the North’s Kumgangsan and the now-shuttered Kaesong industrial park. He is also deeply involved in the North’s internal handling of religious affairs, prompting speculation that he might deliver a personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, to invite Pope Francis to Pyongyang.
With Gyeonggi Province eyeing a number of cross-border projects with North Korea, such as opening a South Korean branch of Pyongyang’s famous Okryugwan restaurant, the subject is expected to be discussed as well.
The South’s Unification Ministry said Monday that the Seoul government has no plans to meet the North Korean officials, but it did not rule out the possibility of contact, saying it is not appropriate to predict the schedule of visitors.
The North Korean officials’ visit comes amid stalled nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, and growing US concerns regarding the two Koreas’ efforts to make progress in inter-Korean cooperation projects, which the US deems as not in step with progress in nuclear talks.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)