India reaches out to North Korea

NEW DELHI (ANN Desk) - India sends minister to Pyongyang, a first in 20 years.

India has apparently changed its strategy with North Korea - sending a minister on a diplomatic mission to Pyongyang, a first in two decades.

Minister of state for foreign affairs VK Singh arrived in Pyongyang on May 15 for a two-day official visit at the invitation of the North Korean government, the Indian media reported quoting the official Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

The development comes at a time when North Korea has criticised Washington's approach towards Pyongyang - even threatening to pull out of the Singapore summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

Singh met Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Vice President Kim Yong Dae, and the foreign and culture ministers for discussions on “a range of issues covering political, regional, economic, educational and cultural cooperation between the two countries”, India's foreign ministry said in a statement.

He also used the occasion to raise India's concerns about the long-standing links between the nuclear and missile programmes of North Korea and Pakistan. Without naming Pakistan, the statement said Singh "highlighted the threat from nuclear proliferation, in particular India's concerns in the context of the proliferation linkages with India's neighbourhood".

The statement added, "The DPRK side emphasized that as a friendly country DPRK will never allow any action that would create concerns for India's security."

Singh's visit is significant as the Indian government had issued a notification in March last year imposing strict restrictions on trade with North Korea, other than essential items such as food and medicines. The trip also followed India's new envoy to North Korea, Atul Gotsurve, taking up his assignment.

The visit came days after Kim Jong-un travelled to China – India's economic rival. Kim met President Xi Jinping, who is seen as a key player in defusing tensions in the Korean peninsula along with Trump.

India has always had diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, although its trade ties were impacted after sanctions were slapped by the United States and the United Nations following multiple nuclear tests by North Korea.

Multiple media reports also said New Delhi had refused a request from former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to shut down its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang.

Till the restrictions were imposed last year, India was North Korea's second largest trading partner after China. The restrictions had completely banned the imports of coal, minerals and metals from North Korea.

The visit by Singh, and the secrecy surrounding it suggests that India is trying to quietly rebuild ties with the reclusive regime, ostracised by most of the world due to its defiance of UN Security Council norms on nuclear weapons, the Hindu reported.

The trip is also being seen as significant in the context of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's upcoming informal summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.