Indian MoS External Affairs VK Singh visited North Korea on May 15-16 as India sought to expand its ties amid the assurance by the reclusive Far-East Asian country of not allowing any proliferation activities that impact India’s security interests ahead of the proposed Trump-Kim summit on June 12 in Singapore.
Singh is the first high-level Indian minister to visit Pyongyang in two decades. The Modi government aims to step up engagement as North Korea seeks to enter mainstream international community. An Indian minister had last visited North Korea in 1998.
“During the visit, MOS held discussions with Kim Yong Dae, Vice President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Ri Yong Ho, Foreign Minister, Pak Chun Nam, Minister of Culture and Choe Hui Chol, Vice Foreign Minister of DPRK on a range of issues covering political, regional, economic, educational and cultural cooperation between the two countries,” informed an MEA Statement.
Singh during his meetings highlighted the threat from nuclear proliferation, in particular India’s concerns in the context of the proliferation linkages with India’s neighbourhood. The DPRK side emphasized that as a friendly country DPRK will never allow any action that would create concerns for India’s security. The role of Pakistan’s AQ Khan in developing North Korea’s nuclear programme and Pyongyang’s support in Pak missile program have been biggest irritant in ties with Pyongyang.
“The two sides decided to explore possibilities of cooperation in areas of mutual interest including vocational education, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, promotion of Yoga and traditional medicines. Both sides agreed to strengthen people to people contacts through educational and cultural exchange, to mark 45 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” informed the MEA statement.
Last month, when North Korean President Kim Jong-un travelled to South Korea to hold talks with President Moon Jae-in — the same day as Wuhan Summit — India welcomed the inter-Korean summit and hoped that it would “help in reducing tensions and pave the way for lasting peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula”.
The highest-level ministerial visit from North Korea to India in over three decades took place in 2015, when foreign minister Ri Su Yong travelled to Delhi, which was followed by senior officials meeting here in 2016. However, ties have been cold since then.
India had been one of North Korea’s biggest trade partners, but had been imposing sanctions in line with the UN Security Council sanctions. India has banned all trade with North Korea, except for food and medicines. Therefore Singh’s visit is significant, given the changing geo-politics of the region.
This year, India imposed fresh restrictions on the “supply, sale, transfer or export” of crude oil. Restrictions were also imposed on sale of helicopters, industrial machinery, iron, steels, food and agricultural products, iron, steel and other metals.
However, India had refused to shut down its embassy in North Korea despite US pressure. “I told secretary Tillerson that embassies of some of your friendly countries should remain there so that some channels of communication remain open. Many times, you may have need to talk…a mutual dialogue may be required to resolve some issues. At least one embassy should be there from your friends. And I believe that he understood this,” foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told the press after her meeting with then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson here last year.
Meanwhile, experts on North Korea here believe that the recent move by Pyongyang to postpone Wednesday’s talks with South Korea on the pretext of US-South Korea military drills is essentially a tactic to gain concessions ahead of the big Summit.
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