STRASBOURG, France (AFP) - A European Parliament delegation said on Wednesday (March 14) it has been conducting secret talks with North Korea over the last three years to try to persuade Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear programme.
The group led by British MEP Nirj Deva has met senior North Korean officials, including ministers, 14 times and plans another meeting in Brussels in the near future.
News of the below-the-radar diplomacy effort comes after the surprise announcement that US President Donald Trump plans a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, part of fast-paced developments following an Olympic detente.
Deva said he and his colleagues on the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula had been "relentlessly advocating the case for dialogue without preconditions" to end the increasingly tense nuclear standoff with the North.
"I did much of the advocacy in secrecy with my colleagues. It is only now that I am revealing our efforts to a wider audience in the light of the proposed talks," Deva said.
The group also met senior officials in the US, China, Japan and South Korea, Deva said, for dialogue aimed at achieving a "verifiable denuclearised Korean peninsula".
"We met in secret with senior North Koreans on 14 occasions. We understood their concerns and they understand ours," he told a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
HOPES RAISED FOR DETENTE
The MEPs held regular clandestine meetings with the North Koreans in Brussels, Deva said, listening to their concerns and trying to convince them of the risks of nuclear war.
"We told them in no uncertain terms that if they carry on with the missile programme and the nuclear bomb programme they will only lead to an inevitable conclusion which is unthinkable," Deva said.
EU diplomacy is normally carried out by the bloc's dedicated foreign affairs department, which has diplomatic missions all around the world.
Deva said his delegation had a role to play in developing "confidence building measures" to support the planned US-North Korea dialogue.
And Deva said that from his meetings he believed the tough sanctions the EU has in place against North Korea had been an important factor in driving Pyongyang to agree to talks.
"Part of the reason that this happened was the sanctions started to bite poor people - not the elite," he said.
The sudden announcement of the summit between Kim and Trump and Pyongyang's reported willingness to discuss ending its nuclear programme have raised hopes of detente after months of tension.
As well as the Kim-Trump meeting, North and South Korea are also planning a summit next month.
Paul Ruebig, an Austrian MEP who is deputy chair of the committee and took part in the secret meetings, called for the UN to take part in the summits to give them a global scope.