May 16, 2018 / 3:24 PM / 2 years ago

Indian minister holds talks in North Korea, first trip in 20 years

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has sent a government minister to North Korea for the first time in nearly two decades for talks on political and regional issues, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, following signs of a thaw on the Korean peninsula.

FILE PHOTO: Meeting co-chairperson Shri V.K. Singh, India's Minister of State for External Affairs, speaks to other representatives of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) during the ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings in Manila, Philippines August 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rolex Dela Pena/Pool

India established diplomatic relations with the North 45 years ago and has a small embassy there, but in recent years it halted trade and aid as the United States stepped up global pressure to isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.

India’s diplomatic initiative comes weeks after the two Koreas held their first summit in more than a decade and as the leaders of the United States and North Korea prepare for a first meeting next month.

Junior foreign minister V.K. Singh, who began the two-day visit to North Korea on Tuesday, reiterated New Delhi’s support for peace initiatives on the peninsula, the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Singh met the vice-president of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Dae, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Culture Minister Pak Chun Nam, among others, it said.

“The DPRK side provided an overview of some of the recent developments in the Korean Peninsula,” the foreign ministry statement said, using the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On Wednesday, however, North Korea said it might reconsider next month’s meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and its supreme leader Kim Jong Un if Washington insists it unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul due on Wednesday.

Indian analysts said New Delhi could play a bit role in peacekeeping on the peninsula because it had kept its channels of communication open with the North.

Last year, when then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the issue of India’s diplomatic relations with North Korea, India said they were minimal and aimed at keeping open some channels of communication with the reclusive state.

“India is the only major country in the region that is not a party to the problem but which has good contacts with the North,” said Prashant Kumar Singh, a specialist on India’s ties with Pyongyang at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

The foreign ministry said the two sides had decided during Singh’s visit to explore cooperation in vocational education, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and promotion of yoga.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Gareth Jones

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