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Please keep up the good work

June 07,2017
I read your May 29th article “Diplomats Elevated to Escape from International Isolation” with great interest. As a Korean-American, and a member of the Pacific Century Institute, which has sponsored many meetings between foreigners and members of the DPRK Foreign Ministry, I am familiar with the people you mentioned.

It is a very good sign that you are paying attention to what is going on in the North’s Foreign Ministry. For too long the South Korean media has ignored that part of the North’s bureaucracy as it focused on the personnel who dealt only with the South and on unification issues. This was a bifurcation that did not serve the South Korean public well since it missed how much Pyongyang addresses the world in a holistic manner, with the Foreign Ministry playing an integrated role in the overall planning of the North.

Please keep up the good work.

However, I would bring your attention to three possible shortcomings in your article.

First, you left out mention of Han Song-ryol. Han was elevated to Vice Foreign Minister when Ri Yong-ho became Foreign Minister. Han has as much time in the U.S. as any North Korean — at the DPRK UN Mission, as a negotiator on the Agreed Framework and all the talks since, and in Track II meetings. He, Minister Ri and Choe Son-hui have always seemed to work together closely according to my observations.

Second, I think you did not give proper emphasis to First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-kwan. That he has a position on the parliamentary diplomatic commission is very important, even more important than you mentioned in your article given his past role in various negotiations. Again, it shows the degree of holistic decision-making Pyongyang is trying to engender.

Third, perhaps it is just a mistake in phrasing, but Ri Su-yong should not be referred to as Ri Yong-ho’s “right hand man.” It implies Ri Yong-ho holds a higher rank than Ri Su-yong, which is not true. Even your article mentions that Ri Su-yong outranks Ri Yong-ho on both the State Affairs Commission and in the Politburo. However, it would probably be correct to say that the two are allies and Ri Su-yong’s position as chairman of the parliamentary diplomatic commission and vice-chairman of the Workers Party’s International Affairs Department also solidifies cooperation and coordination in policy-making.

*CEO of CBOL Corp., a California aerospace firm, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Spencer H. Kim