V.K. Singh makes surprise visit to North Korea

There is no confirmation yet on a possible meeting with DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un.

May 16, 2018 05:39 pm | Updated 06:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

 Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh in North Korea.

Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh in North Korea.

In a surprise development, Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. (Retd.) V.K.Singh has reached Pyongyang for talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) government, the official Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported on Wednesday.

During the visit on May 15-16, that was previously unannounced, Mr. Singh met with DPRK Vice President Kim Yong Dae, and the Foreign and Culture ministers on “a range of issues covering political, regional, economic, educational and cultural cooperation between the two countries,” a statement from the MEA said.

According to the statement, DPRK officials discussed recent peace initiatives with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) as well as proposed talks with the United States. Mr. Singh raised the issue of DPRK links with Pakistan.

“[Mr. Singh] highlighted the threat from nuclear proliferation, in particular India’s concerns in the context of the proliferation linkages with India’s neighbourhood. The DPRK side emphasized that as a friendly country DPRK will never allow any action that would create concerns for India’s security,” the statement added.

The visit by Gen. Singh closely followed the presentation of credentials by the new Indian Ambassador Atul Gotsurve, indicating the meeting had been fixed quite recently.

Mr. Gotsurve, who is one of the seniormost IFS officers to be posted to North Korea by India, presented his credentials to Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK on Monday.

The visit by Gen. Singh, and the secrecy surrounding it suggests that India is trying to quietly rebuild ties with the reclusive regime, ostracised by most of the world due to its defiance of UNSC norms on nuclear weapons. In the past year, India had joined the U.S. and allies in statements “deploring” nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests by the DPRK, although it had earlier refrained from similarly strong language.

In March 2017, the government even issued a gazette notification instituting major restrictions on any trade with North Korea other than essentials like food and medicines.

According to the gazette notification , that implemented UNSC decisions from 2006, all trade of exports of defence, space and technological materials, and training of DPRK officials would be banned between the two countries and imposed a travel ban on officials suspected to be involved in nuclear proliferation activities.

The notification also restricted bank accounts of DPRK diplomats in India and put strictures on procurement of coal, minerals and other metals from North Korea. At the time, the gazette notification had been seen as a result of requests from the United States, which has been driving U.N. Sanctions against DPRK.

However, New Delhi refused a request from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to shut down its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang altogether. After a thaw between the United States in the past few months, and the North Korean regime, India seems to have changed its strategy with North Korea, sending Gen. Singh on a diplomatic mission to Pyongyang, the first such mission in two decades.

However, the timing of Gen. Singh’s visit coincided with fresh tensions breaking out between Pyongyang and Washington over the nature of upcoming talks between US President Donald Trump and Mr. Kim, due to be held in Singapore on June 12th.

In a statement issued by its First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan on Wednesday, DPRK threatened to call off the talks if the Trump administration continued to press for denuclearisation as a precondition, and criticised the US administration for trying to put undue pressure on Pyongyang.

“[DPRK] cannot suppress indignation at such moves of the U.S., and harbour doubt about the U.S. sincerity for improved DPRK-U.S. relations through sound dialogue and negotiations,” Mr. Kim said, adding that North Korea would not share the “miserable” fate of Libya, whose ruler Muammar Qadhafi had given up his nuclear capabilities, but was removed from power anyway.

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