The South Korean government says it's working to verify reports on whether North Korea has appointed Ri Son-gwon, an official who had handled inter-Korean affairs, as its new foreign minister.
South Korea's unification ministry said Monday the North has yet to confirm the appointment of Ri Son-gwon, who is currently chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country the ministry's North Korean counterpart.
Local media, citing a government official over the weekend, reported that the North has notified foreign ambassadors in Pyeongyang of the replacement of Ri Yong-ho, who had led denuclearization talks with the U.S.
The official said the replacement is also a form of punishment of Ri Yong-ho, for the stalled denuclearization talks between Pyeongyang and Washington.
"We are working to confirm the replacement and whether the status of Ri Son-gwon has changed or not."
If the appointment is confirmed, local media outlets see the move to appoint a former military officer and hardliner such as Ri Son-gwon as the top diplomat, despite his lack of experience, as aimed to pressure the U.S. for more concessions in denuclearization talks.
Ri Son-gwon had headed the North Korean delegation for high-level talks with South Korea, including the meeting in August 2018 that led to the inter-Korean summit in the North's capital the following month.
Ri is widely known among the South Korean media as rather hot-tempered.
During the September 2018 summit, Ri is said to have shown this temper when he criticized the CEOs of the South Korean business delegation that accompanied President Moon Jae-in to Pyeongyang saying "how can the cold noodles be taken down your throats", roughly meaning how can you sit there and eat with everything that's going on.
Kim Ji-yeon, Arirang News.