North Korea confirms embassy closures to revamp diplomatic efficiency

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea confirmed on Friday it is shutting some embassies in an effort to “rearrange its diplomatic capacity efficiently”, closures that South Korea says indicates the North is struggling under the burden of sanctions.

North Korea is poised to close as many as a dozen embassies including ones in Spain, Hong Kong, and various countries in Africa, according to media reports and analysts, which could mean the closure of nearly 25% of its missions worldwide.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed in comments on the ministry website that some missions were closing while adding that new ones were opening.

“We are carrying out operations to withdraw and establish diplomatic missions in accordance with changing global environments and national foreign policy,” the spokesperson said, calling it normal activity, and without giving any details.

North Korea, facing extensive sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, manages to maintain business ties and friendly diplomatic relations with a dwindling number of Cold War-era friends.

North Korean missions have at times engaged in illicit activities, according to international sanctions monitors, to raise cash to fund their operations and to send back to Pyongyang.

South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles relations with the North, said this week North Korea’s closure of some diplomatic missions was a sign it is struggling to make money overseas because of international sanctions.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel)