A North Korean diplomat paid a rare visit to the US Congress on Thursday, saying his country wanted to improve relations with the United States, in spite of what he called US hostility.
Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the UN, met privately with about two dozen lawmakers during his visit, which Republican US Rep. Curt Weldon described as a "frank exchange with members of both parties."
Han visited the Senate last year, but on Thursday he met primarily with members of the House of Representatives. A State Department official said that North Korea's UN diplomats are normally limited to travel within a 25-mile (40-kilometer) radius of New York City but that exceptions are occasionally made. The official said Han's travel request was approved after the department received assurances that the diplomat wouldn't be involved in any media events.
Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat, said there was a sense among lawmakers that "The current state of affairs benefits no one. It is in everyone's interest that we make progress" in current six-nation talks to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Those talks, which include diplomats from South Korea, North Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan are expected to resume in early November in Beijing. North Korea agreed at the last round of talks in September to abandon nuclear development but then quickly backpedaled on that pledge, saying it wanted a civilian nuclear reactor.
Some lawmakers have reacted cautiously to the breakthrough in talks, with conservatives worried that US negotiators have given the North a way to backtrack or, worse, a way to justify its existing nuclear programs.
While Han didn't speak to reporters at a news conference following his meeting with lawmakers, he did release a prepared statement that was by turns conciliatory and combative.
He chastised the US for its insistence on a "hostile policy toward DPRK to keep the situation tense as ever," referring to the acronym for North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
But he also said that "the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the region depend on how the DPRK-US relations develop. It is not our stand to remain an enemy of the US forever."
Han defended his country's right to keep a nuclear deterrent in the face of what he called US threats. Referring to the US insistence that the North scrap its nuclear programs before receiving further concessions, Han asked, "Who would lay down his gun simply because he is asked to do so by his opponent while they are still" engaged in hostilities?
(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, October 28, 2005)