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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Updated January 26, 1455 KST to include details from official Venezuelan documents regarding intentions to open an embassy in Pyongyang
Preparations are underway in Pyongyang to open the first Venezuelan embassy in North Korea, sources told NK News Friday, as the two countries appear to be pressing forward with agreements made late last year.
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza first signed a notice of the country’s intention to open the embassy in North Korea on November 28, the day after a high-level DPRK delegation visited Caracas for talks.
The document, published in the Venezuelan Official Gazette number 41.534, stated the embassy should be established in Pyongyang and that the Office of the Deputy Minister for Asia, the Middle East and Oceania be responsible for carrying out the related preparatory tasks.
An informed source in Pyongyang confirmed to NK News Friday that preparations for opening the embassy are already underway, adding that authorities “are moving people from several apartments” as part of the process.
Venezuela’s new embassy will be located in the diplomatic district in East Pyongyang near the Vietnamese and Polish embassies, the source added, and is being converted out of a building used by the General Services Bureau (GSB), which is responsible for managing local staff working in various embassies and international organizations.
Due to the repurposing of the building, another source said Friday, “some GSB staff will therefore move to another building, which is currently used as apartments for expats.”
“The tenants in that building have been asked to move out by early March.”
Neither the Venezuelan embassies in Beijing or Seoul were able to comment on the claims when contacted by NK News.
The move comes shortly after a delegation led by Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, traveled to Venezuela in late November, a visit in which strengthening diplomatic relations was a key focus.
There, representatives of each foreign ministry signed a “memorandum of understanding for the establishment of political consultations on matters of common interest.”
The two also agreed to “the abolition of the visa requirement for diplomatic and service passport holders,” according to a statement at the time from the office of Venezuela’s Vice President.
Additionally, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s office reported the purpose of the visit was “strengthening the development between both nations,” including in “diplomatic, economic and commercial relations.”
The two countries have kept up close relations for decades, but North Korea only first opened an embassy in Caracas in 2015, where the current ambassador is Ri Sung Gil.
During his recent visit to Caracas, Kim Yong Nam highlighted the ideological roots of the relationship between the countries’ ruling parties, the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Kim said he supports “the struggle of the Venezuelan people for independence against imperialism, for peace against war and for socialism,” North Korean state media reported last November.
Venezuela’s current ambassador to the DPRK, Ivan Zerpa, also serves as the country’s ambassador to China and is based in Beijing.
Zerpa began his ambassadorship to Pyongyang in July 2015, but it is unclear who will be the ambassador once the new embassy is opened.
Meanwhile, Venezuela faces a crisis at home as protests continue against the government of President Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guaidó declaring himself interim president earlier this week.
Featured image: Office of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro