North Korea has appointed a career diplomat and experienced negotiator in talks with the US, Choe Son Hui, as foreign minister. The former deputy foreign minister was promoted at a plenary session of the ruling Labor Party’s Central Committee, state-controlled media reported on Saturday.
This means that Choe will be the first woman in the largely isolated state to head the ministry. As the new head of department, she replaces former army officer Ri Son Gwon, who conducted talks with South Korea prior to his ministerial post.
Even as deputy minister, Choe, who was born in 1964, was one of the few women to hold a high position in North Korea’s power elite.
The career diplomat, who speaks fluent English, was a close adviser to Kim in the nuclear talks with the US and also accompanied him to the 2018 summit with then US President Donald Trump. She also accompanied Kim on his first state visit to Russia in April 2019.
After the failed summit between Kim and Trump in Hanoi in 2019, she blamed the US for the failure of the talks at a rare press conference. “I think the United States missed a golden opportunity by rejecting our proposals,” she said at the time.
It is still unclear what consequences Choe’s promotion could have for the negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Her appointment comes at a time when tensions are rising after a series of nuclear-capable missile tests by North Korea earlier this year.
In recent months, Pyongyang has turned down several offers of talks from Washington. The USA and South Korea fear that North Korea could soon carry out a new nuclear test for the first time since 2017.
At the recent Central Committee meeting, Kim reportedly spoke of a “very serious” security environment for the country and the need to strengthen defense capabilities. He did not go directly into the USA.