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(Yonhap Interview) N. Korea wants embassy in Ankara but sanctions relief needed first: Turkish envoy

All Headlines 17:46 November 01, 2018

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is eager for the opening of an embassy in the Turkish capital and the resumption of humanitarian aid from the former enemy, Ankara's top envoy here said Thursday.

Ambassador Ersin Ercin, however, made it clear that it can't be an option without progress on denuclearization and sanctions relief.

He recalled a meeting with the North's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, in Pyongyang in May. He made a train trip there from China to present his credentials.

Turkish Ambassador to South Korea Ersin Ercin speaks during a meeting with reporters at his official residence in Seoul on Nov. 1, 2018. (Yonhap)

North Korea and Turkey have maintained ambassadorial diplomatic ties since 2001 via their embassies in Seoul and Bulgaria's Sofia, respectively.

Kim told the envoy that North Koreans do not see Turkey as an enemy any more, although it fought against the communist nation alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War. Turkey is thus called South Korea's "brother" nation.

Kim requested Turkey's permission to open the North's embassy there and revive economic cooperation, according to Ercin.

The ambassador reiterated his government's clear position that nothing can be done as long as U.N.-led sanctions on Pyongyang remain in place.

Kim's response was a sort of thinly veiled threat.

"You need to come first for more opportunities, as you will be late after the conditions are normalized," he was quoted as saying.

Presenting his credentials to the Turkish president last year, the North's Ambassador to Bulgaria Cha Kon-il made a similar call.

It reflects Pyongyang's minimally fruitful efforts to expand its diplomatic ties and economic partnerships with a major international player amid tough sanctions stemming from its nuclear and missile program.

Turkey is the biggest humanitarian assistance donor in the world -- its aid came to US$8 billion in 2017, exceeding the $6.6 billion of the United States.

The country straddling western Asia and eastern Europe used to provide North Korea with rice and technical equipment for greenhouses several years ago.

But the aid came to a halt when South Korea and the U.S. gave a "warning" that rice was being channeled into the military, not ordinary people in need.

The Turkish government fully supports the denuclearization talks and ongoing peace process, the envoy said, adding it will prepare to provide economic cooperation and assistance to the North in case sanctions are lifted.

"If we are going to do that, we will have consultations with the South Korean government in advance," he said, meeting with a small group of reporters at his official residence.

Turkey is under international scrutiny over its handling of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He was strangled and mutilated soon after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October, Turkish prosecutors reportedly announced.

The ambassador stressed Turkey's commitment to the fight against terrorism.

"Turkey is an ardent advocate of international solidarity and partnership with a view to building a safer world," he said.

The international image of Turkey, which's seeking to join the European Union, suffered a blow last month when the U.S. blacklisted a Turkish company for its involvement in trading weapons and luxury goods with North Korea.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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