N. Korea's Kim puts top priority on economic development

BEIJING, Sept. 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator told a forum in China last week that the North's young leader Kim Jong-un has been prioritizing the economy, indicating Kim might put more effort in developing the country's moribund economy, a diplomatic source who attended the forum said Sunday.

Ri Yong-ho, the North's chief delegate to the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program, made the remarks during the forum in Beijing that marked the 10th anniversary of the talks, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

"First Secretary Kim Jong-un is currently putting his top priority on the economy," Ri was quoted by the source as saying at the one-day, closed-door forum, held on Wednesday. Ri used Kim's official title as the first secretary of the North's Korean Workers' Party.

"Recently, about 90 percent of field-guidance activities by First Secretary Kim were related to the economy," Ri told the forum, according to the source.

The source said the remarks by Ri during the forum were noticeable because Ri emphasized Kim's focus on the economy several times.

Following its third nuclear test earlier this year, North Korea declared in March that economic development and an expansion of its nuclear arsenal could "simultaneously" take place.

The Beijing forum was called for by China to mark the 10th anniversary of the launching of the six-party talks. The off-and-on forum that involves the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Russia and Japan has been stalled since late 2008.

The meeting came amid renewed efforts by China to revive the six-party channel, but South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have shown a cool response to it in the absence of a clear North Korean willingness to abandon its nuclear ambition.

South Korea sent two diplomats to attend the forum as observers but ordered them not to meet with any North Korean representatives.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>