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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A note distributed to foreign embassies in Pyongyang seen by NK News on Tuesday has confirmed the recent appointment of Ri Son Gwon as North Korea’s newest foreign minister.
The Korean-language letter, distributed by the Protocol Department of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs in recent days, explains that former post-holder Ri Yong Ho was recently replaced.
“We have the honor of informing you that Comrade Ri Son Gwon has been appointed foreign minister of the DPRK,” the note reads.
“The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs Protocol Department takes this opportunity to once again express its high respects to all foreign and international organization missions in the DPRK,” it adds.
NK News exclusively reported on Saturday that foreign minister Ri Yong Ho had been replaced by Ri Son Gwon — formerly head of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country — as part of a major political reshuffle.
Though North Korean state media is yet to confirm Ri’s replacement, the note seen by NK News on Tuesday provides further confirmation that the appointment has taken place.
South Korean authorities have also said they are unable to verify that Ri is now serving as Pyongyang’s top diplomat.
“We are closely looking at things and working to confirm with regard to the replacement of (the North’s) foreign minister,” an official from the country’s unification ministry said Monday, in comments carried by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
“We are also looking into whether the status of Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, has changed or not.”
Minyoung Lee, senior analyst with NK News-sister site NK Pro, said Monday that the decision to pick Ri Son Gwon as foreign minister was notable for his more conservative stance towards the U.S. and South Korea, as well as his military background.
“He is generally known to be a hard-liner with little to no experience in diplomacy,” she wrote in an NK Pro analysis on the ongoing reshuffle of North Korea’s diplomatic top brass.
With the “closest diplomatic experience Ri has had [being] in inter-Korean relations,” Lee said that his “appointment as foreign minister is extremely unusual, as most of his predecessors were career diplomats or had at least some prior experience in diplomacy.”
“Second, Ri’s status in the DPRK leadership is lower compared to that of his two immediate predecessors, Ri Yong Ho and Ri Su Yong, at the time of their appointments,” she added.
Overall, Lee said that his appointment “may merely reflect Kim Jong Un’s party plenum speech in December, which showed his fundamental skepticism about negotiations with the U.S. and left Kim very little maneuvering room for future diplomacy with the U.S.”
Minyoung Lee contributed to this report
Edited by Oliver Hotham