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N. Korean top diplomat arrives in Beijing en route to Laos

Ri Su Yong (Kyodo)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- A North Korean top diplomat arrived in Beijing from Pyongyang on Tuesday morning, Kyodo News confirmed, with state-run media saying he is scheduled to visit Laos.

Upon arrival at a VIP section of Beijing's international airport, Ri Su Yong, a vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, climbed into a car provided by the Chinese Communist Party while concealing his face.

The Korean Central News Agency reported later in the day that Ri left Pyongyang on Tuesday to visit Laos, but did not mention details of his itinerary. The Southeast Asian nation is a one-party-rule state similar to North Korea.

North Korea's ambassador to Russia Kim Hyun Joon, who temporarily returned home, also arrived in Beijing on Tuesday. In Pyongyang, he may have made arrangements for leader Kim Jong Un's rumored first official visit to Russia, diplomatic sources said.

Kim Hyun Joon, who is expected to get back to Moscow sometime soon, did not answer reporters' questions as he arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport.

North Korea has continued diplomatic activities even after Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump fell short of a deal at their Feb. 27-28 summit in Hanoi over the scope of North Korea's denuclearization and sanctions relief.

To convince the international community to relax economic sanctions against North Korea, Pyongyang has recently become eager to conduct multilateral diplomacy instead of focusing on bilateral talks with the United States, foreign affairs experts say.

As North Korea's economy has been hit hard by the economic sanctions designed to thwart the country's nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, Pyongyang has called for the easing of them, saying it has already taken concrete steps toward denuclearization.

Trump, however, said after the Hanoi summit that North Korea pledged to "totally" dismantle its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, but the lifting of the sanctions would require Pyongyang to scrap other nuclear facilities and programs, including undeclared ones.

Meanwhile, Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, is in Beijing to talk with China about how to deal with issues related to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Before the second summit between Washington and Pyongyang in the Vietnamese capital, Biegun held working-level talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol, an interlocutor leading negotiations with the United States.

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