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North Korea appoints ex-army officer as new foreign minister in signal of hardline stance with US

Associated Press
Ri Son Gwon has little experience in dealings with the United States - Korea Pool

North Korea has named a sharp-tongued former army officer with little foreign policy experience as its top diplomat, in a possible indication it will take a harder line with Washington in stalled nuclear negotiations.

Ri Son Gwon's new title as foreign minister was disclosed Friday in a Korean Central News Agency dispatch that said he attended a reception for foreign diplomats in Pyongyang the previous day.

South Korean and other outside media outlets have recently reported North Korea informed foreign diplomats in Pyongyang of Mr Ri's job last week.

In his speech at the banquet, "Comrade Ri Son Gwon said that 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... and made public the foreign policy stand of the (North Korean) government," KCNA said.

Mr Ri, an outspoken retired army colonel who previously headed a government body responsible for relations with South Korea, has taken part in numerous inter-Korean military talks over the past 15 years.

But Mr Ri, who is also an alternate member of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, lacks experience in negotiations with the United States and other countries.

In South Korea, he is most known for what were seen as rude remarks to South Korean businessmen visiting Pyongyang in September 2018.

While they were eating naengmyeon, Korean traditional cold noodles, Ri asked them: "Are naengmyeon going down your throats?" in apparent dissatisfaction with a lack of progress in efforts to promote inter-Korean economic projects, according to South Korean officials and lawmakers. Many conservatives in South Korea strongly criticised him.

Mr Ri replaced Ri Yong Ho, a career diplomat with broad experiences who had taken part in nuclear negotiations with the United States since early 2018.

It wasn't immediately known what happened to Ri Yong Ho, whose name was last mentioned in KCNA last August.