NK's top diplomat arrives in Cambodia for ASEAN forum
PHNOM PENH/SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun arrived here early Wednesday to attend an annual security meeting of Southeast Asian nations and regional powers, Seoul diplomats said.
Pak's visit to the two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, hosted by the 10-member bloc starting Thursday, comes amid persistent tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the North's nuclear and missile programs.
Pak arrived in Phnom Penh without responding to a barrage of questions by reporters on whether he would meet the South Korean foreign minister this week.
Earlier in the day, a senior Seoul diplomat confirmed Pak's attendance.
"It has been understood that about 10 North Korean delegates, led by Pak, are scheduled to arrive in Phnom Penh on Tuesday night to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum," said the diplomat, also in the Cambodian capital to take part in the forum.
Pak is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday, the diplomat said.
Ri Yong-ho, North Korea's vice foreign minister, who played a leading role in discussing the North's nuclear issue at last year's ARF, is expected to skip this year's forum, according to the South Korean diplomat.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan is set to arrive in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, the diplomat said.
This year's forum will mark the first time that high-level diplomats from the two Koreas could have face-to-face meetings on the sidelines since the December death of North Korea's long-time ruler, Kim Jong-il.
Diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions have been frozen since April, when North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket that failed moments after lift-off.
The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the launch as a disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile and warned the North of further sanctions if it conducts another missile launch or nuclear test.
South Korean delegates said they are trying to persuade the ARF to support a U.N. statement strongly condemning North Korea's April rocket launch.
The Seoul delegates have said South Korea has no plans to hold a bilateral meeting with North Korea during the ARF but left the door open for inter-Korean contact organized by an "unofficial channel."
Concerns persist that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make up for its failed launch. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.