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NK’s tough talk back on front lines

(KCNA-Yonhap)
(KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korea has reinstated tough-talking Kwon Jong-gun as chief of US affairs at its Foreign Ministry, six months after removing him from the post, as it struggles to find a way out of the prolonged stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the US.

In an interview carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency on Thursday, Kwon lambasted the US, which said it was disappointed at the North’s recent actions to cut off communication with South Korea.

Kwon had delivered Pyongyang’s stance toward Washington and Seoul as the director general of the ministry’s department of North American affairs from February to October last year.

Observers say the return of Kwon, who played the bad guy after talks between Washington and Pyongyang broke down without a deal in Hanoi early last year, signals more strong-worded condemnations of the US.

Kwon has compared South Korean authorities to “scared dogs” and “idiots,” blasting the South’s joint military drills with the US.

He initially appeared in the North’s state media in November 2018 as the director of the Institute of American Studies under the ministry, a post that is usually concurrently held by the chief of US affairs.

Kwon was replaced by Jo Chol-su ahead of North Korea’s working-level talks with the US in Stockholm in October last year, and was promoted to roving ambassador.

Kwon attended the negotiation in Stockholm as the deputy chief of the North Korean delegation.

Putting Kwon back in his old post after just half a year shows that Pyongyang is continuing to move around officials dealing with Washington in a bid to break the diplomatic deadlock.

Following the ruling Workers’ Party politburo meeting late last year, the North dismissed its foreign minister since 2016, Ri Yong-ho, and replaced him with Ri Son-gwon who had been its point man on South Korea.

Pyongyang also reorganized its Foreign Ministry early this year, created a new department in April for negotiations with the US and delivered a commentary by the ministry’s news department chief, a position that was never mentioned before.

It is still unclear how work is divided between the department for negotiations with the US and the department of North American affairs.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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