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Four countries expel North Korean diplomats

Sept 20,2017
North Korea is often called the most closed and isolated nation in the world.

Its diplomatic isolation is, in fact, deepening after defying United Nations Security Council resolutions by carrying out 14 missile tests this year alone and a nuclear experiment earlier this month.

On Monday, Spain’s foreign ministry announced that North Korean Ambassador Kim Hyok-chol was a persona non grata, a foreign national no longer welcome in that country, due to the North’s repeated refusals to stop developing nuclear weapons.

The ministry said Kim was summoned earlier that day and told to leave Spain before Sept. 30.

Spain was preceded by Mexico, Peru and Kuwait, who all kicked out their North Korean ambassadors this month. Kuwait expelled an additional three North Korean diplomats.

Before departing Lima, North Korean Ambassador Kim Hak-chol told a press conference that Peru’s decision to force him to leave was akin to “throwing gasoline on the fire” and that his country would continue to pursue nuclear development “without wavering,” according to Reuters.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on Peru, Mexico, Chile and Brazil to sever all economic and diplomatic relations with North Korea last month during a six-day tour to South America, though it is unclear how far Pence’s remarks influenced the countries.

During a UN Security Council ministerial meeting on North Korea last April, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked countries to “suspend or downgrade” diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

“North Korea exploits its diplomatic privileges to fund its illicit nuclear and missile technology programs,” he said, “and constraining its diplomatic activity will cut off a flow of needed resources.”

Tillerson stressed that normal relations with North Korea “are simply not acceptable” in light of its recent actions.

Pyongyang seems to be reacting to its deepening isolation by reaching out to its ally Russia.

The director of its North American Department in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Choi Son-hui, met with Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora on Monday at the ministry to have a “comprehensive and frank exchange of opinions on the recent developments of the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a statement from the Russian Embassy.

“Such talks enable better understanding of a partner’s stance and informing them of one’s own approaches,” read an English version of the statement, adding that both diplomats “agreed to continue mutually useful meetings that could finally contribute to finding a solution to the existing complicated foreign policy issues.”

An article in the Washington Post that cited American officials shortly after the nuclear test suggested Moscow might be trying to insert itself into the back-channel diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington to gain leverage with the United States.

Choi was reportedly invited by Moscow to visit Russia later this month to “feel out Pyongyang as to a possible resumption of dialogue between the United States and North Korea,” according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the outreach.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]