Washington, Seoul closely watching North’s charm offensive

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Washington, Seoul closely watching North’s charm offensive

North Korea’s denuclearization and human rights issues are taking center stage this month in dialogues among top officials from countries involved in the six-party talks in cities including Seoul, Washington, Beijing and Brussels, as Pyongyang shows a shift in diplomatic policy.

“We called for forward-looking steps from North Korea on humanitarian issues, such as family reunions for North and South Koreans [separated during the 1950-53 Korean War] as well as the release of the Americans detained [in Pyongyang],” Hwang Joon-kook, South Korea’s top envoy to the six-party talks to denuclearize Pyongyang, told reporters in Washington on Tuesday after talks with his U.S. counterpart Glyn Davies.

Hwang, the special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and Davies, the special U.S. representative for North Korea policy, also emphasized that North Korea must take steps toward denuclearization in order to escape from its diplomatic isolation and cooperate with the international community.

Washington is adamant that the denuclearization talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States will not resume until Pyongyang shows signs of denuclearization. Those talks have been stalled since 2008.

However, Pyongyang has been on a charm offensive to improve its diplomatic relations in recent months, a shift away from its typical approach of using threats and saber rattling.

North Korean Kang Sok-ju, a veteran diplomat and a secretary of the central committee of the Workers’ Party, headed to Europe on Saturday on a rare visit to Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. He met with German officials and lawmakers to appeal for the resumption of six-party talks “without preconditions.”

On Tuesday, Kang held talks in Brussels with Elmar Brok, the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, on issues including North Korean denuclearization and humanitarian issues.

Brok said after roundtable talks with Kang that they had discussions that were “very clear and frank,” especially on Pyongyang’s nuclear issue.

“We have said that they should give more clear commitments that they will not become a nuclear power for the future,” Brok said in an interview broadcast on the European Parliament’s website.

He added that they discussed “whether the human rights dialogue between North Korea and the European Union can be opened again.”

The European Union has backed the United States on stronger sanctions against Pyongyang after its third nuclear test in February 2013.

“We will do our best to improve North-South relations,” North Korean Premier Pak Pong-ju said yesterday in a televised speech in celebration of the 66th anniversary of founding of the Communist state.

South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin is expected to hold talks with Rice in Washington during a four-day trip that kicks off on Sunday.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong will also attend the UN General Assembly later this month, the first time in 15 years for someone in his position, in a visit to the United States that will be closely watched by observers.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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