French envoy talks about trip in North Korea

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2009 2:52 PM

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's special envoy to North Korea said Sunday that he had long talks with officials there about sensitive issues including nuclear proliferation and human rights.

Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, returned this weekend from a five-day mission to explore possible diplomatic ties between France and the communist country.

Asked about the difficult topics of nuclear proliferation and the country's labor camps, Lang said they were "two subjects Korean leaders and I discussed at great length."

Lang, speaking to RFI radio, TV5Monde television and Le Monde newspaper, said North Korean officials insisted that "today there is no transfer of fissile or ballistic materials outside of Korea." Lang said he was taking the statement seriously, though he added, "we can ask, do you have proof?"

Lang said he plans to brief Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner soon about the trip, which included 10 hours of talks with officials such as No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam. He did not see North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Tensions have been high since North Korea conducted an atomic test, launched a long-range rocket and test-fired a series of missiles earlier this year. Pyongyang also walked away from disarmament negotiations with the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

Last week, U.S. officials announced that a senior diplomat would travel to Pyongyang, most likely before year's end, to hold talks with North Korean officials on returning to the disarmament negotiations. The talks would be the first between Washington and Pyongyang since President Barack Obama took office in January.

Lang says his personal opinion on how to engage the regime is to tackle one issue at a time.

"If we try to settle everything all at once, we won't settle anything," he said.

France and Estonia are the only European nations that do not have formal relations with Pyongyang. Lang said France's lack of diplomatic ties was, "paradoxically, leverage for being able to make progress on sensitive subjects."