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U.S. to raise N.K. rights issue after progress in denuclearization: envoy

All Headlines 09:38 March 14, 2010

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, March 13 (Yonhap) -- The United States will raise the issue of North Korean human rights in future six-party nuclear talks, once they have resumed and made a certain amount of progress, a U.S. envoy said.

"At this point, what we need to do is restart the six-party talks," Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, said Friday in a media roundtable about the release of the State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report the previous day.

But King added: "The six-party talks are not just one little narrow box," hoping that the multilateral nuclear talks will become the venue to address human rights and other issues involving the reclusive communist North.

"The relationship between the United States and North Korea is very much going to be affected and influenced by North Korea's record on human rights."

The six-party talks -- which seek North Korea's denuclearization in return for economic and diplomatic incentives -- have not been held since December 2008, and the North threatened to quit them entirely after the U.N. imposed sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile tests last spring.

Pyongyang demands the sanctions be lifted as a precondition for its return to the six-party talks. Washington insists the North come back to the nuclear dialogue first.

North Korea also wants talks toward a peace treaty officially ending the 1950-53 Korean War before it returns to the nuclear talks, which have been on and off since their inception in 2003 and involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley recently made remarks that were similar to King's.

"To the extent that, at some point in time, once North Korea's taken steps that we've outlined (for the North's denuclearization), if there is a serious discussion about normalization with the United States, we would expect that human rights will continue to be part of that discussion," he said.

The spokesman, however, said King will not be part of the U.S. delegation to the nuclear talks, a decision apparently aimed at not jeopardizing the fragile nuclear talks.

In a report to sum up his four-year tenure in January last year, King's predecessor, Jay Lefkowitz, urged the Obama administration to emphasize human rights in the six-party talks and link any aid to Pyongyang with human rights improvements.

The State Department said in its 2009 report that North Korea's human rights record remains "deplorable," and that people are governed under an "absolute" dictatorship by leader Kim Jong-il.

North Koreans are "denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and the government attempted to control all information," the report said, noting reports of "extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, and torture."


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