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N. Korean leadership changes point to shift in nuclear dealings

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 10:46 AM

TOKYO - North Korea on Thursday revealed the promotion of three senior officials who have been involved previously with the United States in nuclear negotiations. The changes, coming days before North Korea begins its largest political convention in 30 years, led experts to suggest that the country's leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.

Although the international community remains skeptical about North Korea's willingness to denuclearize, there has been momentum in recent weeks for another round of disarmament-for-aid discussions. Chinese officials have urged resumption of six-party talks among China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea.

The latest reshuffle elevates diplomats who previously helped to engineer some of the short-lived bright spots in the denuclearization talks.

According to North Korea's state news agency, Kang Sok Ju has been named the new vice premier of the cabinet, overseeing foreign policy. Kang was involved in 1994 negotiations that led to the Agreed Framework, in which North Korea promised to freeze nuclear development in exchange for light water reactors.

Kang's previous job, as first vice foreign minister, will be filled by Kim Kye Gwan, who led North Korea in six-party talks in 2005, when a denuclearization pact was reached. The new vice foreign minister is Ri Yong Ho, Kim's deputy on the nuclear negotiating team.

North Korean party delegates will gather Tuesday for a conference that will appoint new leadership, according to the state media. Many outside experts and government officials see the conference as a means to secure a power transfer from leader Kim Jong Il to his youngest son, Kim Jong Eun.

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