India and North Korea are hitting the restart button on their relationship

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India has sent a government minister to North Korea for the first time in almost two decades for talks on political and regional issues, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, following signs of a thaw on the Korean peninsula. While there was no meeting between V K Singh and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he held discussions with four leaders in the North Korean establishment: Vice President of Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong Dae, Foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, Culture minister Pak Chun Nam, and Vice Foreign minister Choe Hui Chol. The North Koreans also briefed Gen. Singh about the recent developments in the Korean peninsula including the peace talks between the two Koreas. North Korea stated that the U.S. was considering its intention of denuclearising the Korean peninsula as a sign of weakness. An MEA statement on the visit claimed that the DPRK had assured India that as a friendly country, it would never allow any action that would create concerns for India's security. India has time and again condemned North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"It should be stressed that it had taken much effort to achieve a minor improvement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula". Pyongyang's proposed talks with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons programme, however, looked uncertain on Wednesday with North Korean officers reportedly claiming the talks may be called off.

At a time when North Korea is being engaged by the worldwide community, India has reached out to Pyongyang, with the first minister-level visit to the country in 20 years coming on May 15 and 16, Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday.

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In 2004, Pakistan's most famous nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted to have transferred nuclear technology to North Korea and other nations, a confession that led to his detainment for five years. The US, armed with reports that said India may have "unwittingly" contributed North Korea's rogue behaviour, lobbied with New Delhi to close down its mission and further reduce contacts.

India, which maintained minimal diplomatic relations with the DPRK despite pressure from Washington to close its mission in Pyongyang and cut trade ties, also used the fragile improvement in North Korea's ties with the USA to explore possibilities of cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including vocational education, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and promotion of yoga and traditional medicines.

The pleasantries exchanged are a sign of progress, more so given the MEA's condemnation of North Korea's launch of a nuclear missile in July previous year. The two sides agreed to collaborate in a number of spheres, including education, medicine, agriculture and the promotion of cultural practices like yoga. India had been North Korea's second biggest trade partner after China.

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