U.S. civilian delegation visits North upon request

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U.S. civilian delegation visits North upon request

WASHINGTON - More than 20 U.S. business leaders and other civilians traveled to North Korea last week amid possible signs of a reform drive by the communist nation’s new leadership, according to a non-partisan group.

The Pacific Council on International Policy (PCIP), based in Los Angeles, confirmed that its 23-member delegation visited North Korea from Aug. 26 through Sept. 1 at the invitation of the North’s government.

“The delegation aimed to learn firsthand about the current atmosphere in North Korea, subject to the restrictions placed by the DPRK government on foreign groups and individuals traveling to the country,” an official at the council told Yonhap News Agency.

The group visited not only the capital city, Pyongyang, but also other cities including Wonsan, Nampo and Kaesong, home to an inter-Korean industrial complex, as well as the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, added the official.

The PCIP official made clear the group was not a U.S. government delegation.

“Thus we went through standard channels to travel to North Korea, which does not include collaboration with the State Department,” the official said.

The delegation included Michael D. Antonovich, supervisor of the Fifth District in the County of Los Angeles; Jennifer Faust, executive vice president of the PCIP; and David I. Fisher, chairman of the board of the Capital Guardian Trust Company.

The group met Western diplomats in Pyongyang and toured some of North Korea’s factories and a cooperative farm in a rural town.

A diplomatic source in Washington told Yonhap, “It is rare for U.S. civilians to visit North Korea. Especially, it is deemed meaningful in that North Korea invited a large delegation of U.S. civilians including businessmen.”

Another source said North Korea seemed to have wanted to show its will to reform and open its market to the outside world by giving an unusual chance to U.S. citizens to look around its industrial facilities and the cooperative farm.

The international community is keeping a close eye on the policy of North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un, who was educated in the West.

He took power shortly after his father Kim Jong-il died in December.

Earlier, North Korea announced a decision to convene an unusual second session of its Supreme People’s Assembly on Sept. 25, triggering speculation that the unexpected gathering may be linked to approving laws that can support new economic reform programs.

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