Nov. 29 (UPI) -- North Korea's top diplomat arrived at Beijing's international airport late Thursday, ahead of a planned trip to Vietnam, and possibly Syria.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was seen at Beijing Capital International Airport with five or six delegates, South Korean news service Seoul Pyongyang News reported. Ji Jae Ryong, the North Korean ambassador to Beijing, met Ri at the airport and escorted him to transportation.
Japan's Kyodo News reported earlier in the day the top envoys of Vietnam and Syria to North Korea met with Ri at Pyongyang's Sunan Airport prior to his departure.
The presence of the Syrian Ambassador to North Korea Tammam Sulaiman at the airport is raising speculation Ri could visit Syria after he concludes meetings in Vietnam, South Korean news service News 1 reported.
According to KCNA, Pyongyang's state-controlled news agency, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told North Korean Ambassador Mun Jong Nam in May he wanted to visit North Korea and meet with Kim Jong Un.
Ri could meet with the Syrians to discuss a possible summit, Kyodo News reported.
Ri's upcoming trip to Vietnam is expected to begin Friday and end by Sunday.
The top North Korean diplomat will meet with Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam's foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Pyongyang's relations with Hanoi chilled following the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean leader, at an airport in Malaysia.
One of the defendants in the murder is a Vietnamese national.
North Korea may have taken the initiative to improve relations, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun reported.
"Although Lee's visit is officially based on an invitation from Vietnam, the North suggested the trip initially, and Vietnam once declined to invite the official," an unidentified diplomat told the Mainichi.
Ri is expected to visit Vietnam's industrial zones and could discuss economic cooperation, according to reports.
Ri is to also visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum before holding a meeting with Pham on Friday. The two countries maintain longstanding diplomatic ties that date back to 1950.