North and South Korean officials shake hands and share a toast to peace
Senior North and South Korean parliamentarians shook hands and shared a toast to “peace” with Swiss wine on Tuesday, in a rare gesture of friendship suggesting relations between their two countries are thawing.
South Korean MP and politician Young Chin shook hands with Ri Jong-hyok, director of North Korea’s National Reunification Institute and deputy head of its Supreme People’s Assembly.
They were attending the annual assembly in Geneva of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organisation that brings together members of national parliaments from around the world.
“This is to peace, and the reunion of the Korean peninsula. Thank you very much for your commitment,” IPU secretary general Martin Chungong of Cameroon, who organised the meeting, told the two delegations as they toasted.
The diplomatic detente began in January with the announcement that Pyongyang would send athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics held in the South, as part of a unified Korean team.
It came after a year in which Pyongyang staged several missile launches and its biggest-ever nuclear test.
As Chungong and the two Korean parliamentarians put down their glasses to link arms and shake hands again, the IPU chief said: “This is a symbol of their commitment to working together.”
He added: “If there are issues that are of concern to you that you want me to help with, the IPU to help with, you can count on the institution’s support.”
Ri, speaking through an interpreter, told the private gathering earlier: “You know the Secretary-General of the IPU makes a great contribution to the favourable situation now between the North and South.”
Beijing is the main ally of secretive and isolated North Korea, as well as its biggest trading partner.
In a speech to the IPU assembly on Monday, Ri said that North Korea’s policy of seeking better ties with the South was enjoying broad international support, and also called on the United States to halt its sanctions and pressure.
Chin, whose remarks were translated by the North Korean interpreter, told Ri on Tuesday: “I think the next time on, there might be a higher step for us to have an easy contact.”
North Korea’s diplomatic efforts were also seen on Monday when - according to a source familiar with the matter - leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Beijing by train.
Kim is believed to have left on Tuesday, concluding what is his first known journey abroad since he assumed power in 2011.