North Korea envoy returns after meeting Putin in Moscow

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s foreign minister returned from Russia on Friday after a rare official visit and meeting with President Vladimir Putin as part of closer cooperation that Washington said could drastically change the security threat posed by Pyongyang.

Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui and a government delegation returned home on Friday, official news agency KCNA said without elaborating on her meetings in Moscow.

Earlier this week, KCNA said Choe and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed strengthening the “strategic and tactical cooperation” and implementing the agreement between their leaders to forge closer ties when they met in September.

Choe’s visit was the latest in a series of high-level exchanges since last year amid growing criticism of Pyongyang’s role in the Ukraine war by allegedly shipping artillery and missiles to Russia.

Both North Korea and Russia deny the accusation and also the charge that Pyongyang was receiving advanced technology for developing strategic military capability from Moscow in return.

Recent exchange between North Korea and Russia is “an unprecedented level of cooperation in the military sphere,” White House senior director for arms control Pranay Vaddi said on Thursday.

“I think the nature of North Korea as a threat in the region could drastically change over the coming decade as a result of this cooperation,” Vaddi said.

Choe’s delegation included a high-ranking official overseeing North Korea’s munitions industry, Jo Chun Ryong, a director in the ruling Workers’ Party, who was present in her meeting with Putin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called North Korea “a very important partner” and the two sides are focused on developing “relations in all areas, including in sensitive areas.”

Choe met Putin on Tuesday after her talks with Lavrov.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)