French envoy in NKorea for talks on ties, nukes

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 6:38 AM

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's special envoy began talks Monday with North Korea on establishing diplomatic relations and the international standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Envoy Jack Lang's trip to the isolated North represents Sarkozy's bid to raise France's diplomatic profile and mark another spot on the globe where French influence is felt. Untainted by ties to the bloodshed of the 1950-53 Korean War, France hopes to be seen as a neutral, trustworthy player.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kung Sok Ung, who is in charge of European affairs, welcomed Lang at the airport in Pyongyang and the two later held talks, according to footage from broadcaster APTN in North Korea. Pyongyang's official news agency also reported on Lang's arrival in a one-sentence dispatch.

Lang's officially stated mission during his five-day visit is to explore the possibility of forging diplomatic ties between the two countries. France is one of only two European nations that doesn't have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

France never recognized North Korea, which was divided from the South in the Korean War's armistice. Paris has since said it wants to see an end to Pyongyang's nuclear program and an improvement in human rights conditions before establishing ties.

Before his trip, Lang said he would also "discuss all the problems, the nuclear question naturally." In Beijing last week, he also said he wouldn't rule out any options in Pyongyang, including offering possible European aid in return for concessions on the nuclear issue.

The talks come as the United States is preparing to accept North Korea's offer of one-on-one talks to break the deadlock in international disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang. U.S. officials have said Washington is nearing an announcement that it will send a special envoy to North Korea.

In an attempt to pressure the U.S. to accept its demand, the North announced last week that it had completed reprocessing thousands of spent nuclear fuel rods to extract plutonium to bolster its atomic stockpile.

North Korea pulled out of nuclear talks involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S. in April and has since conducted its second nuclear test and a series of banned ballistic missile tests.

But last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said the North could rejoin the talks depending on progress in direct talks with Washington.

The U.S. has said it is open to one-on-one talks with the North if they lead to the resumption of six-party negotiations.