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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Analysis: North Korea reaches out
Kim Jong Il and Goran Persson share a drink with the other delegates
North Korea is starting to thaw
By William Horsley world affairs correspondent

Kim Jong-il has assured a European Union delegation visiting North Korea that it will maintain its moratorium on new missile tests at least until 2003 has been widely welcomed by observers.

It is seen as a conciliatory gesture towards the US. Relations have suffered since George W Bush, on coming into office in January, announced an overall review of policy towards North Korea.

George W Bush
Bush has announced a review of policy towards North Korea
At the time North Korea responded by cancelling several high-profile contacts with South Korea.

This week the United States has cited the possible threat from North Korea as one of the reasons for its decision to press ahead with an ambitious missile defence system, which has provoked strong criticism from China and Russia, both traditional allies of North Korea.

Missile test

The United States and its allies, including Japan and South Korea, have been much concerned about the North's intentions since 1998, when without warning it tested a missile which flew over Japan into the Pacific ocean.

The United States also suspects that the North Koreans already possess a small number of nuclear weapons.

The head of the European delegation to Pyongyang, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, stressed that the EU-North Korean dialogue must not be seen as replacing the dialogue with America.

With China and the United States once more at loggerheads over the future of the grounded US spy plane on Hainan island there is still a real risk of a wider pattern of heightened tension building up in East Asia.

EU diplomacy

The current European Union team's visit to North Korea is remarkable as an example of the EU's new willingness to play a more active part in resolving world tensions.

It has led to discord among European states, some of which want firm guarantees of better human rights behaviour from North Korea before a closer relationship can emerge.

Some hardline elements in Washington also feel that the EU should leave such sensitive matters as relations with Pyongyang to the US itself.

But the European team says the visit, and Europe's softer diplomatic approach, is proving constructive.

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See also:

03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea 'maintains missile test ban'
24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea's dramatic turnaround
24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Korean missile breakthrough
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