North Korea has announced the promotions of three officials who played key roles in the country's nuclear negotiations with the West.
The announcement comes days before an expected major meeting of the ruling party. Analysts said it suggests a renewed interest on the part of Pyongyang in improving relations with the West.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il called for an early return to six-party talks on its nuclear program during talks last month in China with President Hu Jintao.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that Kang Sok Ju has been promoted to vice premier, a post in which he is expected to oversee the nation's foreign policy. He previously served as first vice foreign minister with oversight of the six-party talks.
Promotions also were given to Kim Kye Gwan, who conducted the talks on Pyongyang's behalf, and his deputy Ri Yong Ho.
Kim was elevated to first vice foreign minister, the No. 2 position in the ministry, taking over the post vacated by Kang. Ri will become a vice foreign minister.
The appointments come before the ruling Workers Party of Korea convenes on Tuesday to elect a new party leadership. It will be the biggest party meeting since 1980, when Kim Jong Il made his public debut as North Korea's future leader.
Many analysts believe Mr. Kim will use the gathering to provide a similar debut for his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.