BEIJING/NEW YORK – A North Korean deputy foreign minister arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, with an informed source saying that he is possibly traveling onward to Malaysia to hold informal talks with someone from the United States.
The arrival from Pyongyang of Han Song Ryol at Beijing’s international airport was seen by a Kyodo News reporter. It remains unclear with whom Han, who was until recently director-general of the U.S. affairs department at the country’s Foreign Ministry, will meet during his trip.
He could be set to meet former U.S. officials or experts on North Korean issues, and the discussions will most likely be held completely behind-the-scenes under the informal, unofficial “track-two” format, according to the source.
His trip comes as North Korea shows no signs of halting its nuclear and missile development programs.
Over the weekend, North Korea again test-fired what was believed to be a Musudan intermediate-range missile — a test that failed but still violated multiple U.N. resolutions banning the use of ballistic missile technology by the country.
Han traveled to Sweden in May for a seminar and also made contact with former U.S. diplomats at that time.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that the North Korean diplomat met with a private U.S. delegation in September in Pyongyang.
It was the delegation of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, a nonprofit entity headed by Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with years of experience in dealing with North Korean issues.
The sighting comes after the North Korea warned that it may carry out further nuclear tests and says it is prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike on the United States if American nuclear forces mobilize against it, NBC News reported Monday.
“We will not step back as long as there’s a nuclear threat to us from the United States,” Lee Yong Pil, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies, said in an interview.
“A pre-emptive nuclear strike is not something the U.S. has a monopoly on,” he said. “If we see that the U.S. would do it to us, we would do it first. … We have the technology.”
Lee was also quoted as warning that North Korea may carry out “a sixth, a seventh or an eighth” nuclear test. Pyongyang conducted its fourth and fifth tests this year.
The U.N. Security Council is discussing new measures in response to the Sept. 9 test, which is seen as the North’s most powerful detonation so far of a nuclear device.
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