SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s state media on Friday confirmed that Ri Son Gwon, a former defense commander with limited diplomatic experience, has been appointed the country’s new foreign affairs minister.

The official KCNA news agency reported Ri, the latest military official to be promoted under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, gave a speech as minister at a New Year dinner reception hosted by the ministry on Thursday for embassies and international organizations.

A diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters North Korea informed countries with embassies in Pyongyang last week that Ri, a former military officer and now a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, had replaced Ri Yong Ho as Pyongyang’s top diplomat.

The appointment came as a surprise to North Korea watchers amid stalled denuclearisation talks with Washington, as Ri does not have any experience in dealing with nuclear issues or U.S. officials. His predecessor was a career diplomat and seasoned nuclear negotiator, though he often took a backseat to military officer-turned-party envoys during the last two years of diplomacy.

The new foreign minister did, however, lead high-level inter-Korean talks in 2018 as chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which handles South Korea affairs.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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