North Korea spills VK's secret trip
First minister visit in 20 years
New Delhi: Junior external affairs minister V.K. Singh is on a two-day trip to North Korea in what is the first ministerial visit from India to the DPRK since 1998.
Ironically, Singh - who headed for the DPRK in the wake of a thaw in US-DPRK relations - found himself in the North Korean capital at a time Washington and Pyongyang has returned to their face-off mode.
The visit had been kept under wraps by India and news of Singh's presence in Pyongyang was first reported by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) - the state-owned news service of North Korea - which put out two photographs of his meetings early on Wednesday.
As the KCNA put out more photographs of Singh's programme, the external affairs ministry (MEA) broke its silence in the evening and confirmed that he was on a two-day visit to the DPRK at the invitation of the North Korean government.
Singh, according to the MEA, held discussions with the Vice-President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong Dae; foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, and culture minister Pak Chun Nam.
A key issue that India flagged pertained to the threat from nuclear proliferation and its linkages with Pakistan's, especially considering the role played by India's neighbour in developing the DPRK's nuclear programme. An MEA statement on the visit claimed that the DPRK had assured India that as a friendly country, it would never allow any action that would create concerns for India's security.
India, which maintained minimal diplomatic relations with the DPRK despite pressure from Washington to close its mission in Pyongyang and cut trade ties, also used the fragile improvement in North Korea's ties with the US to explore possibilities of cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including vocational education, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and promotion of yoga and traditional medicines.
DPRK ministers also gave Singh an overview of some of the recent developments in the Korean Peninsula.
Singh is said to have reiterated India's support to the joint peace initiative of the DPRK and the Republic of Korea leadership, encouraging both sides to establish peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula.
Singh's reiteration of India's stand favouring the peace initiative came hours after Pyongyang cancelled a high-level meeting with Seoul - scheduled for Wednesday - in protest against a joint military drill by the US and South Korea, calling it a provocation and a preparation for an invasion.
Pyongyang followed this up with a threat to call off the June 12 summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump to protest his national security adviser John Bolton's statement that North Korea should replicate the "Libyan model" of nuclear disarmament and go for a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" of its nuclear programme.