11 July 2024

North Korea has appointed veteran diplomat Choe Son-hui as its first female foreign minister, state media reported Saturday, as Pyongyang pushes ahead with a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests and ignores US calls for talks.

Choe, who formerly served as the North’s vice foreign minister, was tapped to lead the foreign ministry at a ruling party meeting overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, the state media KCNA reported.

She replaces Ri Son Gwon, a hardline former military official who previously led talks with the South.

A career diplomat who speaks fluent English, Choe served as a close aide to Kim during nuclear talks with the United States and accompanied the North Korean leader to summits with then US president Donald Trump.

She held a rare question and answer session with reporters on the night the two leaders’ summit in Hanoi collapsed without a deal in February 2019, blaming Washington for the failed talks.

“I think the United States has missed a golden opportunity with its rejection of our proposals,” she said.

Diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington have since stalled, with the Kim regime in recent months not responding to the United States’ repeated offers to return to negotiations.

The nuclear-armed North has meanwhile carried out a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

US and South Korean officials have also warned that Kim’s regime is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test — a move that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warned would provoke a “swift and forceful” response.