North Korea has appointed Choe Kang Il, a longtime expert on U.S. affairs and diplomat, as its new ambassador to Austria, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Saturday.
Choe — who previously worked as a deputy director general at the foreign ministry’s North America Department — had served as one of North Korea’s top diplomats in talks with the U.S., meeting with State Department officials for a number of working-level negotiations during a warming of relations between the two countries in 2018.
Prior to that he had nurtured a decidedly more hard-line image, defending North Korea’s testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (IBCMs) and treatment of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died following a detention in the DPRK, in interviews with American press.
His public profile waned in 2019, however, having been seen in Hanoi ahead of the historic DPRK-U.S. summit in February but notably absent from a team of North Korean diplomats dispatched to Stockholm for working-level negotiations in October.
Choe replaces Kim Kwang Sop, who had served as the country’s top representative in Austria since 1993 before his abrupt recall late last year.
Married to Kim Kyong Jin, the daughter of North Korea’s founding President Kim Il Sung, the ambassador enjoyed close links to the North Korean ruling family and was seen as a convivial member of the diplomatic community in Vienna.
He also served concurrently as the DPRK’s permanent representative to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in the Austrian capital. It’s unclear whether Choe will also be taking on that role.
Kim Kwang Sop was the second high-profile North Korean diplomat with close ties to the country’s ruling family to be recalled late last year, with the news following revelations that Kim Pyong Il — half-brother of the late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il and ambassador to the Czech Republic– had also been sent home.
Choe’s appointment was one of several new ambassadorships announced Saturday, with the MFA confirming NK News reporting in January that Kim’s replacement in the role of top envoy to the Czech Republic will be Ju Won Chol, who previously served as a deputy at the embassy in Prague.
The country’s new ambassador to Poland will be Choe Il, formerly ambassador to the UK, the foreign ministry said, replacing Ri Kun, another ex-DPRK-U.S. interlocutor who had served in that position since 2015.
Also confirmed in a new position was Sin Hong Chol, a former vice foreign minister who the Russian government earlier in the year said was set to serve as the new DPRK ambassador in Moscow this year.
The appointment of an official with a background in trade to serve as top envoy to one of the DPRK’s closest allies is notable: Hu’s predecessor, Kang Sam Hyon, had during a farewell meeting Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on September 18 committed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
“DPRK will accelerate its cooperation with Iran in political, cultural, economic and international fields,” Kang was reported to have said at the time.
Also promoted this week were Jong Song Il, a former ambassador to Singapore who will now represent the DPRK in South Africa, Song Sun Ryong, a former counselor at the embassy in Equatorial Guinea, who will serve as ambassador to Mexico, and Sim Tong Guk, who will now serve as ambassador to Ethiopia.
This week’s appointments come amid a broader reshuffle among the top brass of North Korea’s foreign policy apparatus this year, which has seen former foreign minister Ri Yong Ho replaced by Ri Son Gwon and former ambassador to Russia Kim Hyong Jun appointed head of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) influential International Department.
North Korea has appointed Choe Kang Il, a longtime expert on U.S. affairs and diplomat, as its new ambassador to Austria, the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Saturday.
Choe -- who previously worked as a deputy director general at the foreign ministry's North America Department -- had served as one of North Korea's top diplomats in talks with the U.S., meeting with State Department officials for a number of working-level negotiations during a warming of relations between the two countries in 2018.