- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

President Bush appointed a special envoy on human rights in North Korea yesterday, giving high profile to the sensitive issue in relations with the communist state just 10 days before six-nation nuclear talks are to resume in Beijing.

The envoy, Jay Lefkowitz, was until recently Mr. Bush’s deputy assistant for domestic policy. He also has had diplomatic assignments as a member of the U.S. delegations to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva and to the International Conference on Anti-Semitism sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“Mr. Lefkowitz will increase awareness and promote efforts to improve the human rights of the long-suffering North Korean people,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

“His appointment will greatly enhance our efforts to encourage North Korea to accept and abide by internationally accepted human rights standards and norms,” she said.

The position, which was created by the North Korea Human Rights Act passed unanimously by both chambers of Congress and signed by Mr. Bush in October, is the first of its kind in the U.S. government.

The White House has been under pressure to appoint an envoy for months from some of its conservative supporters, who argued that the delay could be interpreted by the North Koreans as a diminished concern in Washington about human rights.

The pressure intensified after the United States held several bilateral meetings with the North during the last round of six-party nuclear talks in Beijing in late July and early August.

The development that was in sharp contrast with Mr. Bush’s reluctance to authorize direct negotiations with North Korea by U.S. officials during his first term.

A senior administration official dismissed suggestions that the announcement of Mr. Lefkowitz’s appointment might derail the six-party talks, which are set to resume during the week of Aug. 29.

“It shouldn’t affect the negotiations in a negative sense,” the official told reporters in a telephone conference call. “We hope it will affect things in a positive way.”

There was no immediate reaction from Pyongyang yesterday, but in the past it has accused Washington of using human rights as a pretext to overthrow the government of its leader, Kim Jong-il.

The North reacted angrily when Mr. Bush called it part of an “axis of evil” in 2002, and when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice branded it an “outpost of tyranny” in January.

Pyongyang insists that the six-party talks, which include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, should only deal with nuclear and security issues.

“Kim Jong-il wants people to think that the nuclear issue is all we care about,” said Suzanne Scholte, vice chairman of the North Korean Freedom Coalition, which is holding a rally at the Chinese Embassy today to protest Beijing’s treatment of North Korean refugees.

She cited as some of the most notorious human rights abuses in the North “using food as a weapon” by denying it to certain parts of the country and causing “famine deaths.”

“We know from eye witnesses about the death camps for political prisoners, where the North Koreans practice beating, torture and executions,” she said.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and head of the U.S. delegation at the Beijing talks, said on Wednesday that he had raised human rights in his discussions.

“I’m sure that this will not be an impediment to reaching an eventual [nuclear] agreement,” Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Hill said he hopes the next session in Beijing will produce a “statement of principles” on nuclear issues that could lead to a deal as early as the fall.

The senior administration official said that Mr. Lefkowitz, who is on vacation and was not available for comment yesterday, will report to Miss Rice and will be based at the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

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