September 22, 2010 / 11:33 PM / 10 years ago

North Korea's top nuclear diplomat promoted to vice premier

SEOUL (Reuters) - The architect of North Korea’s nuclear arms programme has been promoted to vice premier, the country’s state media said on Thursday, as it gears up for a rare ruling party meeting to pick a new leadership.

Kang Sok-ju as First Vice Foreign Minister and a close confidant of leader Kim Jong-il has engineered the development of the North’s nuclear programme that for nearly two decades has been the key source of regional security tensions.

“Kang Sok-ju was appointed as Vice-premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK, according to the decree of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly dated September 23,” KCNA news agency said, giving no other details.

The leadership body of the assembly makes formal decisions on personnel and budget issues when the rubberstamp assembly is not in regular session. DPRK is the North’s formal state name.

The North’s top arms negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, has been promoted to First Vice Minister, taking over Kang’s job, KCNA said.

Six-party nuclear disarmament talks aimed at compensating the North with economic and energy aid in return for the pledge to scrap its nuclear programme have been suspended since late 2008, but Pyongyang has indicated it wants to return to dialogue with the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.

Kim represented the North at those talks that began in 2003.

Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test in 2009, sharply raising tensions and triggering U.N. sanctions that analysts said deepened its economic woes.

The country’s ruling Workers’ Party is scheduled to hold the biggest meeting in decades next week to pick a new leadership and possibly anoint leader Kim’s son as heir to the dynastic state. Kim is believed to be in failing health.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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