North Korea has confirmed that Ri Son Gwon, a former defence commander with limited diplomatic experience, has been appointed the country's new foreign affairs minister.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported that 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 organisations.
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 US 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.
His predecessor did not attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in September and Seoul-based NK News said his absence from a group photo of top ruling party officials at a meeting in January raised speculation that he may have been replaced amid a broader political reshuffle.
North Korea reiterated this week it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States' failure to meet a year-end deadline to show more flexibility in talks and "brutal and inhumane" sanctions.
Australian Associated Press