Sept. 27 (UPI) — North Korea and Russia foreign ministry officials are meeting for negotiations in Moscow, as Pyongyang may be seeking stronger ties amid a nuclear crisis and deteriorating relations with China, its main trading partner.
Choi Sun Hee, the North America bureau chief of Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, was seen at Vnukovo International Airport southwest of Moscow on Tuesday, Yonhap reported.
Choi may have been in Vladivostok earlier this week.
One of the few prominent North Korean women diplomats, Choi told reporters at the airport she had come to “negotiate with Russia’s foreign ministry.”
Oleg Burmistrov, Russia’s ambassador-at-large, and deputy head of the Russian delegation for the six-party talks, may have met with Choi.
Burmistrov has been quietly building stronger bilateral ties with Pyongyang.
He visited North Korea in late July where he presented a step-by-step solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo reported Wednesday.
Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul, said North Korea may be trying to “diversify its sanctions risk” by moving away from dependence on China to greater cooperation with Russia.
Shin also said Russia is interested in playing a bridge role between North Korea and the United States, because if it succeeds in easing tensions it could improve relations with Washington.
Cho Han-bum, a senior fellow at the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification, said Kim Jong Un could be seeking a channel for U.S.-North Korea dialogue through Russia.
Restrictions on Chinese trade with North Korea have posed new challenges for the North Korean leader, Cho said.
Russia has been wary of U.S. flights of strategic bombers over the peninsula, Tass news agency reported.
The Kremlin called the flights “highly undesirable” on Tuesday, after the United States deployed B-1B Lancers near North Korea’s eastern coast on Saturday, local time.
North Korea radar may have failed to pick up on the movement, according to Seoul’s spy agency.