Germany to continue diplomatic ties with North Korea, CDU's Jürgen Hardt tells DW

Berlin is unlikely to sever ties amid US warnings, said Germany's coordinator for transatlantic cooperation. In an interview with DW, he said Germany's mission may contribute to a solution.

Germany is likely to continue its diplomatic presence in North Korea after the US called on Berlin to reconsider its ties with the communist nation, Jürgen Hardt, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and the government's coordinator for transatlantic cooperation, told DW.

"At the end of the day … a diplomatic solution [will be] necessary for the conflict with North Korea," Hardt said.

"It's good that the Western world and Europe has not only eyes and ears from China and Russia in Pyongyang, but also from Europe, and therefore the German embassy should be open," he added. Germany officially established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 2001.

Read more: North Korea: From war to nuclear weapons

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Wednesday said Washington would continue to ask "Germany and other countries around the world to recall those ambassadors." 

Washington has upped pressure on countries with a diplomatic presence in North Korea in a bid to "shrink the footprint that North Korea has in any given country."

Deutschland Koordinator für Transatlantische Zusammenarbeit | Jürgen Hardt

Hardt told DW that more needed to be done to pressure Pyongyang to end its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, but cutting diplomatic ties was not one of the choices

State Department clarifies

Given the apparent contradiction between "recalling ambassadors" and shrinking the "North Korean footprint in any given country," DW requested clarification from the State Department, receiving the following response:

"Ms. Nauert's meaning was to reduce the DPRK's diplomatic footprint in countries abroad rather than recalling the German ambassador to North Korea."

Later on Thursday, after a meeting with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced precisely such a measure. He said Berlin planned further cuts to Germany's diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, but not the total closure of the embassy. Gabriel said Berlin would also instruct Pyongyang to again downsize its German embassy team.

"There is no US requirement for Germany to close the German embassy in Pyongyang," Gabriel told DW. He added that while all options were still on the table, including an embassy closure, that was currently "not our goal."

Related Subjects


A young leader

Kim Il Sung, the first and "eternal" president of North Korea, took power in 1948 with the support of the Soviet Union. The official calendar in North Korea begins with his birth year, 1912, designating it "Juche 1" after the state's Juche ideology. He was 41 when, as shown here, he signed the 1953 armistice that effectively ended the Korean War.


Hero worship

In the years and decades after the war, Pyongyang's propaganda machine worked hard to weave a mythical narrative around Kim Il Sung. His childhood and the time he spent fighting Japanese troops in the 1930s were embellished to portray him as an unrivaled military and political genius. At the 1980 party congress, Kim announced he would be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il.


Ruling to the end

In 1992, Kim Il Sung started writing and publishing his memoirs, entitled "Reminiscences: With the Century." Describing his childhood, the North Korean leader claims that he first joined an anti-Japanese rally at 6 years old and became involved with the independence struggle at 8. The memoirs remained unfinished at Kim Il Sung's death in 1994.


In his father's footsteps

After spending years in the top tiers of the regime, Kim Jong Il took power after his father's death. Kim Jong Il's 16-year rule was marked by famine and economic crisis in an already impoverished country. However, the cult of personality surrounding him and his father, Kim Il Sung, grew even stronger.


Rising star

Historians outside North Korea believe Kim Jong Il was born in a military camp in eastern Russia, most likely in 1941. However, the leader's official biography claims it happened on the sacred Korean mountain Paektu, exactly 30 years after his father, on April 15, 1942. A North Korean legend says the birth was blessed by a new star and a double rainbow.


Family trouble

Kim Jong Il had three sons and two daughters with three different women. This 1981 photo shows Kim Jong Il sitting besides his son Kim Jong Nam, with his sister-in-law and her two children in the background. Kim Jong Nam was eventually assassinated in 2017.


Grooming a successor

In 2009, Western media reported that Kim Jong Il had picked his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to take over as the head of the regime. The two appeared together at a military parade on 2010, a year before Kim Jong Il passed away.



According to Pyongyang, the death of Kim Jong Il in 2011 was marked by a series of mysterious events. State media reported that ice snapped loudly at a lake on the Paektu mountain during a sudden snowstorm, with a glowing message appearing on the rocks. After Kim Jong Il's death, a 22-meter (72-foot) statue of him was erected next to the one of his father (l.) in Pyongyang.


Mysterious past

Kim Jong Un mostly stayed out of the spotlight before his ascent to power. His exact age is disputed, but he is believed to have been born between 1982 and 1984. He was reportedly educated in Switzerland. In 2013, he surprised the world by meeting with former NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.


A new cult

Like the leaders before him, Kim Jong Un is hallowed by the state's totalitarian regime. In 2015, South Korean media reported about a new teacher's manual in the North that claimed Kim Jong Un could drive at the age of 3. In 2017, state media said that a monument to the young leader would be build on Mount Paektu.


A Kim with a hydrogen bomb

Altough Kim took power at a younger age and with less of a public profile than his father and grandfather, he has managed to maintain his grip on power. The assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong Nam in 2017 served to cement his reputation abroad as a merciless dictator. The North Korean leader has also vastly expanded the country's nuclear arsenal.

'Focus on sanctions'

However, Hardt also told DW that more could be done to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.

"We should think about increasing sanctions. We have a strict sanctions regime, but I think we can do more," Hardt said. China, for example, could strengthen sanctions against North Korea and improve the monitoring and control of goods traded between both countries, he added.

Read more: How North Korea survives on an oil-drip from Russia

On the European side, "we should especially focus on sanctions that might tackle the leading political group – the family of the dictator in Pyongyang – especially money coming from outside back to North Korea in the form of dollars of euros," Hardt told DW.

Germany, Britain and Sweden share the former East Germany's embassy compound in North Korea and are expected to continue their diplomatic missions despite Washington's latest warnings. However, Western countries have called for increased measures to curb North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missiles programs after several high-profile tests showed advances in weapons technology.

DW Washington correspondent Carsten von Nahmen contributed to this report.

Infografik North Korea's missile ranges