Ties with North Korea warming up

Fruitful meeting: Marzuki (right) greeting Ri at Wisma Putra.

KUALA LUMPUR: The reopening of the Malaysian embassy in North Korea has moved a notch closer with Pyongyang kick-starting the process with a special diplomatic mission.

The republic’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Kil-song was here following a recent meeting in Azerbaijan between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and a senior North Korean official, during which the issue was discussed.

This is the first such effort after Malaysia severely downgraded relations with the republic following events that unfolded with the murder of President Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, at KLIA2 in Feb 2017.

The four-member team and North Korea’s charge d’affaires here, Kim Yu-song, held separate meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya and Wisma Putra secretary-general Datuk Seri Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob on Tuesday.

Marzuki said the plan was to reopen the embassy by the first quarter of next year, and for him to go over to the North Korean capital early next year to check things out.

“The reopening of our embassy will be subject to the assured safety and security of our diplomats. We have told the North Koreans this, and the meeting is the first step, ” he told The Star.

After Jong-nam’s murder, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia questioned the credibility of the police probe and later snubbed Wisma Putra’s summoning of him.

Malaysia acted by expelling the envoy, recalling its ambassador in Pyongyang, revoking visa-free entry for North Koreans and banning Malaysians from travelling there.

The hermit kingdom retaliated with a travel ban on all Malaysians in Pyongyang, trapping three diplomats and six family members and sparking off a hostage crisis.

Following 24 days of uncertainty, they were allowed to fly out after Malaysia agreed to release Jong-nam’s remains and hand over three North Koreans wanted for questioning back to the capital.

Marzuki said the empty Malaysian embassy building in the diplomatic enclave of Munhung-dong in Taedonggang district was still being maintained by locals there.

He said for the time being, the Malaysian mission in China was overseeing North Korea.

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