SEOUL – Top military commanders, arms industry officials and diplomats accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his trip to Russia, hinting at a potentially defence-heavy agenda for meetings with President Vladimir Putin.
North Korea did not name the members of the delegation, but analysts identified several key figures who appear to be accompanying Mr Kim in photos released by state media on Tuesday.
Mr Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Military Commission and marshal of the army, the country’s top military rank, was seen waving alongside Mr Kim aboard the train. Overseeing North Korea’s defence industry including its nuclear and missile programmes, Mr Ri travelled to Russia with Mr Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.
Among other delegates were Marshal Pak Jong Chon, new head of the party’s military political leadership; Mr Pak Thae Song, a party secretary and chairman of a national space science and technology committee involved in a spy satellite programme; and Mr Jo Chun Ryong, director of the Munitions Industry Department, who assisted Mr Kim during his recent visits to a munitions factory and missile plant.
Mr Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre, said the participants suggest Mr Kim and Mr Putin would mainly focus on defence and security cooperation, including a possible agreement for munitions purchases led by Mr Jo.
Defence Minister Kang Sun Nam is also likely to have gone on the trip to Russia, Mr Madden said, though his face was not clearly identified in the photos.
Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui also shook hands with other officials in a receiving line at the train station.
A longtime nuclear negotiator and seasoned diplomat, Ms Choe was instrumental during Mr Kim’s summits with former US president Donald Trump, and promoted to the current position in 2022, after a brief demotion following their failed 2019 summit in Vietnam.
Mr Kim’s powerful sister and a senior party official, Kim Yo Jong, was seen standing beside the train, though it was unclear whether she boarded.
She has played a high-profile role in supporting her brother’s past summits.
Some officials handling economic affairs appear to be accompanying Mr Kim, raising the possibility that he and Mr Putin might discuss economic cooperation and food aid.
They include Mr O Su Yong, a party secretary and director of the economy department; Mr Pak Hun, vice-premier of the cabinet responsible for construction; and Mr Han Kwang Sang, chief of the party’s light industry department.
An official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said Mr Kim and Mr Putin could explore ways to return North Korean labourers to Russia, banned under the UN Security Council sanctions. REUTERS
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