North Korea to send special envoy to Russia

KONFRONTASI-North Korea said Friday that leader Kim Jong Un will send a special envoy to Russia soon for a trip excepted to focus on how to strengthen their ties.

Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency made the announcement about Choe Ryong Hae's planned trip but it did not give the timing or include the exact purpose of the trip.

Russia and North Korea maintain cordial ties, though they are not as close as they were in Soviet times, when Moscow provided significant aid and support to Pyongyang.

For North Korea, better ties with Russia could provide a much needed economic boost as its ties with China — the country's longtime ally and main aid provider — are not as strong as they used to be. Beijing was angered when Pyongyang ramped up tensions last year with its third nuclear test and a torrent of threats of nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington. China has supported tightening of U.N. sanctions and cracked down on North Korean banking activity.

Russia, for its part, has been seeking to bolster ties with North Korea amid a longtime effort to strengthen its role in Asia.

"Russia could be looking to increase its influence in the Far East as its relations with Western nations have taken a turn for the worse due to the situation in Ukraine," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University. "

He said Choe will likely discuss economic projects, such as building cross-border rail routes.

Choe, a senior Workers' Party official, is considered as one of Kim's close associates. He visited Beijing last year as Kim's special envoy and met Chinese President Xi Jinping and told him Pyongyang would take steps to rejoin stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

Choe was also a member of the North's high-profile delegation which visited South Korea in early October and agreed to resume senior-level talks. The talks, however, haven't been revived amid tension over propaganda leaflets that South Korean activists float across the border.[mr/AFP]