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EU's diplomatic back channel in Pyongyang goes cold

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FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un makes a statement regarding U.S. President Donald Trump's speech at the U.N. general assembly, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 22, 2017.

BRUSSELS  - While European powers France and Britain are lobbying Washington to cool tensions since North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test a month ago, EU nations with embassies in Pyongyang are directly pressing the North Koreans.

A group of seven European Union countries - the Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Britain and Germany - held at least two formal meetings with North Korean officials in Pyongyang in September, three EU diplomats said.

But they felt frustrated because the higher-level access that they had obtained in Pyongyang last year had fallen away, with only medium-ranking foreign ministry officials now attending the meetings, the diplomats said.

“There was a sense that we weren’t really getting anywhere because they sent these department heads,” said a Brussels-based diplomat who had been briefed on the meetings, which were described as “very serious” in atmosphere and tone.

“They want to talk to the United States.”

The White House has ruled out such talks, with President Donald Trump telling Secretary of State Rex Tillerson he would be “wasting his time” negotiating with the North Koreans.

The United States has no embassy in Pyongyang and relies on Sweden, the so-called U.S. protecting power there, to do consular work, especially when Westerners get into trouble.

In contrast to recent meetings, when North Korean officials met EU envoys in the Czech Republic’s embassy in 2016 to discuss issues including cultural programs and regional security, a deputy foreign minister would attend, one EU diplomat said.

For the small club of European Union governments with embassies in North Korea, that reflects Pyongyang’s anger at the EU’s gradually expanding sanctions that go beyond those agreed by the United Nations Security Council.

It could have repercussions for broader EU efforts to help mediate in the nuclear crisis, according to the EU diplomats briefed by their colleagues in Pyongyang, as the bloc prepares more measures against North Korea.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired talks on the historic 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, says the bloc is ready to mediate in any talks aimed at freezing North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.

But at the same time, the European Union wants an oil embargo on Pyongyang that it hopes other countries will follow.

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Muslim Global: EU's diplomatic back channel in Pyongyang goes cold
EU's diplomatic back channel in Pyongyang goes cold
While European powers France and Britain are lobbying Washington to cool tensions since North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test a month ago, EU nations with embassies in Pyongyang are directly pressing the North Koreans.
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