- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Jan. 27 (UPI) — EU foreign ministers Monday agreed in principle to send a diplomatic mission to North Korea to persuade the Pyongyang regime to rejoin the non-proliferation treaty, a key international arms control accord.

Pyongyang withdrew from the 30-year old treaty earlier this month, prompting a flurry of diplomatic activity from the United States, South Korea, Australia, Russia and China.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's national security adviser Lim Dong-won left for Pyongyang Monday morning. During his three days in North Korea, Lim is to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and deliver a personal letter from South Korea's Kim calling for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff.

On Sunday, the International Atomic Energy Agency postponed a Feb. 3 emergency meeting on North Korea in order to give the South Korean diplomatic effort time to work.

Despite its distance from the crisis, the European Union feels it has a unique role to play in defusing the confrontation on the Korean peninsula.

"The North Koreans see Europe as a neutral player," said one Brussels-based official. "Russia and Japan have also indicated that Europe has a role to play."

An EU mission to North Korea is likely to be led by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Although no date has been set for the Pyongyang visit, Papandreou told reporters Monday the European Union had given Athens a "mandate to become more involved."

The foreign ministers' decision is being seen as a further attempt by the 15-member bloc to play a more active role on the international stage.

Earlier Monday, ministers meeting in Brussels called for U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq to be given more time to carry out their work. They also endorsed a Greek plan to send a peacekeeping mission to the Mideast early February in a last-ditch attempt to avert a second Gulf War.

However, they failed to reach an agreement on whether to extend sanctions against Zimbabwe, which the European Union accuses of violating basic human rights.

France invited the country's president, Robert Mugabe, to attend a Feb. 19 summit in Paris — a day after the EU's current sanctions are due to expire — but Britain strongly objected to the Zimbabwean leader's presence on European soil. Senior diplomats have been charged with finding a solution to the problem.

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