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Lavrov to visit North Korea to discuss Korean Peninsula settlement

May 31, 2018, 3:22 UTC+3 PYONGYANG

The foreign ministers will focus on international efforts on resuming multilateral dialogue on the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization

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PYONGYANG, May 31. /TASS/. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday will pay his first visit to Pyongyang over the past nine years to hold talks with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho on the settlement on the Korean Peninsula.

"Negotiations between the foreign ministers are scheduled, during which the sides are expected to discuss topical issues of bilateral agenda and also exchange views on the situation around the Korean Peninsula and other major international and regional problems," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The foreign ministers will focus on international efforts on resuming multilateral dialogue on the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization. Ahead of the visit, Lavrov said the Korean Peninsula cannot be denuclearized in one move. "It will require step-by-step actions, consistency and patience," Lavrov noted. "At the final stage of the process, as envisaged by the Russian-Chinese road map, multilateral talks involving all the six countries (Russia, China, North Korea, South Korea, the US and Japan), which have been part of the process for a long time, will become inevitable," he said.

After a long break

Lavrov will visit North Korea for the first time since 2009. The Russian top diplomat visited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on April 23-24, 2009, two weeks after Pyongyang had announced its withdrawal from the six-party talks. This decision came as the UN Security Council condemned North Korea’s missile test and warned of toughening sanctions.

During the visit Lavrov met with his North Korean counterpart Pak Ui-chun and President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong-nam. The Russian foreign minister called on the sides to continue holding the six-party talks, but his call was left unanswered: the effort in this format has not been resumed yet.

However, Russia and North Korea continued contacts although Russian delegations did not pay visits to Pyongyang at a high level.

On August 24, 2011 Russia’s then-president Dmitry Medvedev and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held talks in Ulan-Ude. Lavrov often met with North Korean colleagues on the sidelines of multilateral events in the Asia-Pacific region, and on April 9-12, 2018 North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho paid a visit to Moscow.

Veil of secrecy

Russia and North Korea hadn’t announced plans for the upcoming meeting as the Korean issue is challenging and the under the spotlight of the international community. On May 29, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the preparations were underway for Lavrov’s visit to the DPRK, but did not unveil any particular date. Lavrov’s trip was announced only on Wednesday morning.

The Russian minister’s program in Pyongyang was not disclosed, including the list of the upcoming meetings.

In the run-up to the summit

Lavrov’s visit to Pyongyang takes place just two weeks before the June 12 meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Last week, the US president sent the North Korean leader a message, informing him that the meeting couldn’t take place due to Pyongyang’s hostile statements.

However, soon after that Trump said the US still intended to hold the first US-North Korean summit on June 12 in Singapore.

Ahead of the visit, Lavrov said Russia supported the shift in relations between Pyongyang and Washington. According to the Russian minister, Moscow expects that this meeting won’t result in setting ultimatums.

Lavrov’s visit also comes amid the intensified dialogue between North and South Koreas. Over the past month, the North and South Korean leaders held two meetings in Panmunjom, a small village in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. On April 27, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un met for the first time over past 10 years and signed the Panmunjom Declaration, outlining the agreements on cooperation, denuclearization and building peace on the Korean Peninsula. The second meeting, which discussed the implementation of this declaration, was held on May 26.

Security guarantees

Amid deterioration on the Korean Peninsula in 2017 Russia jointly with China put forward a "dual freeze" initiative. Under this plan, Pyongyang should suspend missile launches, while Washington and Seoul will not conduct military exercises. Lavrov said this proposal remained in demand during the international contacts and may be discussed during the upcoming visit.

Russia’s top diplomat said Pyongyang needs "ironclad guarantees" of security and ensuring its interests to halt its nuclear program. However, difficulties may emerge in the wake of the US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal.

Director of the Asian Strategy Center at the Institute of Economics within the Russian Academy of Sciences Georgy Toloraya told TASS Moscow’s participation in the Korean Peninsula settlement is much-in-demand. "Given the practice, bilateral agreements between the US and North Korea, even if they are reached, won’t be firm if there are no guarantees from great powers, which may lay the groundwork for the system of security and peace in Northeast Asia. That’s why Russia’s role in the Korean settlement is needed," he stressed.

"So, the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Pyongyang is timely, it will allow exchanging views with the North Korean leadership during the most vibrant diplomatic swirling around North Korea now," the expert said.

"The Russian top diplomat will do an important job on coordinating positions and specifying our outlook on how to solve the nuclear issue, and to preserve and maintain peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," he said.

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