On Monday, North Korea’s top diplomat, Ri Su-yong, arrived in India on a rare visit. Ri became the first North Korean foreign minister to visit India in at least 25 years (although Kim Yong-il, the North Korean vice foreign minister, visited India in 2007 and 2009). The last time a senior Indian official visited North Korea was over two decades ago, when Shankar Dayal Sharma, then the Indian vice president, met Kim Il-sung.
In New Delhi, Ri met with his counterpart, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. According to reports, the two discussed North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and regional security issues, including the stability of the Korean peninsula.
In addition to Swaraj, Ri met with Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari. Ri’s trip to India comes ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Seoul, South Korea, which is expected in May. Modi is currently on a tour of France, Germany, and Canada and thus was not in India when Ri arrived.
The specifics of Ri’s conversations with senior Indian officials remain unknown, but it is likely that Ri requested Indian aid and assistance. In 2011, India provided $1 million in emergency aid through the World Food Program. New Delhi will be keen to keep the details of the visit under wraps in order to avoid perceptions that India is contravening South Korean interests in assisting North Korea. Reports in the Indian media suggested that Ri would brief Indian officials about the status of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, a source of concern for New Delhi. Swaraj reportedly conveyed Indian security concerns to Ri during his visit. She emphasized India’s position ”on the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, including the objective of denuclearizing.”