STRASBOURG (France) • A European Parliament delegation said yesterday that it has been conducting secret talks with North Korea over the last three years to try and persuade Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear programme.
The group led by British Member of the European Parliament 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 announcement that US President Donald Trump plans a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, part of fast-paced developments following an Olympic Games detente.
Mr 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," Mr Deva said.
The group also met senior officials in the US, China, Japan and South Korea, Mr Deva said, for dialogue aimed at achieving a "denuclearised Korean peninsula".
The MEPs held regular clandestine meetings with the North Koreans in Brussels, Mr Deva said, listening to their concerns and trying to convince them of the risks of 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," he said.
Mr Deva said his delegation had a role to play in developing "confidence-building measures" to support the planned US-North Korea dialogue. He added 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 this happened was the sanctions started to bite poor people - not the elite," he said.
As well as the Kim-Trump meeting, the two Koreas are also planning a summit next month.