FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
MANILA (Reuters) - North Korea's vice foreign minister met with his Philippine counterpart on Wednesday ahead of a regional security meeting in Manila, where Pyongyang is expected to face pressure to halt its intermediate-range missile tests.
Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui Choi led a delegation for a one-day visit to discuss preparations for the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting on Aug 7, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said. The Philippines is the chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations this year.
"The purpose of the visit is to discuss Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong participating at next week's meeting," he said, adding the talks were mainly focused on logistics after Philippine officials gave the North Koreans a tour of meeting venues.
The North Korean visit was not publicised until afterwards.
Two diplomats from the foreign ministry said the North Koreans were worried ASEAN may issue a strongly-worded statement about the situation on the Korean peninsula to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its planned missile tests.
U.S. officials said on Tuesday they have seen increased North Korean activity at a site in the western city of Kusong that could be preparations for another missile test within days.
Pyongyang said it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, following numerous other missile tests since February.
"This is the not the first time North Korea sent its top diplomats to appeal to ASEAN and to the Philippines as chair this year to go slow on them," a diplomat familiar with the visit told Reuters.
Pyongyang sent diplomats early this year to Manila to appeal to the ASEAN chairman not to embarrass North Korea during the regional meeting, which foreign ministers of Japan, Russia, China, South Korea and the United States are due to attend. It also sent a letter to ASEAN's secretary-general asking for help.
A North Korean diplomat also met with the Philippine ambassador in Beijing to make a similar appeal and invite Cayetano to Pyongyang.
"They wanted me to go there straight from China," he told a news conference. "As of now, there's no plan. We really have to consult with ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, China, Russia and the United States.
"It's a concerted effort on the Korean peninsula," he said, referring to efforts to de-escalate tensions, which ASEAN foreign ministers voiced concerns about in a statement at the ASEAN leaders' summit in April.
"Our stand has not changed," he added.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty)