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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea confirms ex-military official as new foreign minister

Ri Son Gwon hews closely to Kim Jong Un rhetoric in Lunar New Year speech

Former Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, has been replaced by Ri Son Gwon.   © Kyodo

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- North Korea's state-run media reported Friday that Ri Son Gwon, a former military officer and head of the government's Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, has become foreign minister, replacing Ri Yong Ho.

The Korean Central News Agency said Ri Son Gwon made a speech at a reception for the diplomatic corps in Pyongyang on Thursday, addressing him as the "Foreign Minister" in the report.

The new minister has served as a representative to inter-Korean military talks since the mid-2000s. He is seen close to former military officer Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea and a hard-liner on United States policy matters.

Ri Son Gwon said in his speech, "The Korean people have turned out in the general offensive to break through head-on the barriers to the advance of socialist construction by dint of self-reliance," echoing language that leader Kim Jong Un has emphasized.

The reception was held to mark the Lunar New Year's Day, which falls on Saturday.

Late last week, North Korea informed embassies in Pyongyang that it would replace its foreign minister, according to diplomatic sources. Ri Yong Ho, Ri Son Gwon's predecessor and a career diplomat, had been foreign minister since 2016.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Gwan -- who has supervised the country's construction projects under Kim Jong Un -- has been promoted to defense minister, as denuclearization negotiations with the United States remain stalled.

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