The European Union says it will establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in a bid to promote the inter-Korean peace process and to help improve the acute food and health problems in the isolated country. The move comes after a visit to North Korea earlier this month by a high-powered EU delegation.
The first reaction to the EU's move came from South Korea, which hailed the EU decision as a boost for its own efforts to improve relations with North Korea.
In a statement issued at EU headquarters in Brussels, the 15-nation bloc's executive commission says it wants to encourage reconciliation on the Korean peninsula and help improve the humanitarian crisis in North Korea.
The announcement comes barely two weeks after an EU mission, led by Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, visited both North and South Korea to push the stalled inter-Korean peace process forward.
The EU acted at the behest of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung after President Bush announced in March that he was suspending U.S. contacts with North Korea because of misgivings about Pyongyang's military posture.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Mr. Persson that he would keep a moratorium on missile tests until the year 2003. But he also said he will continue to sell missiles and missile technology because he needs hard cash.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten says talks will begin soon with North Korea to determine how the European Union will be represented in Pyongyang and when North Korea can open a mission in Brussels.
"The announcement we've made is a reflection of the successful - the modestly successful - visit that we made to Pyongyang a couple of weeks ago," he said. "And I very much hope it will lead to an early beginning to the dialogue on human rights, that it could help to improve the working conditions for humanitarian NGOs (non-government organizations) in (North Korea) and it will help us get off the ground the two technical cooperation projects that we want to do with (North Korea)."
Mr. Patten has acknowledged that an improvement in the human rights situation in North Korea will not happen overnight. His colleagues in Brussels also recognize that little progress can be made in resolving military tensions on the Korean peninsula without the United States playing a major role.