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To defuse tensions with North Korea, let the European Union try


Breaking down why Trump and Kim failed to reach a deal in Hanoi

These countries do not share the same history of hostility towards North Korea over its nuclear programme, human rights record or past provocations towards South Korea. The EU itself maintains a policy of “critical engagement” with Pyongyang, especially over human rights.

And for the sake of keeping some channels of communication open, both Washington and Seoul should encourage the EU to engage North Korea in conversation. Such talks may reveal the extent of the loathing North Korea has for the Biden and Yoon administrations. They may also reveal truths about North Korea’s intentions, which may be to continue defying US-led efforts at extended deterrence in Northeast Asia.

These exchanges may also reveal that North Korea is concerned about how countries, including EU member states, will vote on human rights resolutions at the UN General Assembly later this year.

In response to a resolution based on the 2014 report, North Korea attempted a “charm offensive” to signal its openness to talks, confronted the panel after it was disassembled, attacked the credibility of defectors who testified and marshalled its diplomatic partners in a failed effort to water down the resolution. Government spokespersons treated the accusations in the report as a direct affront to their supreme leadership.

The EU should enter negotiations with no illusions about North Korea’s intent. It can discuss matters with Pyongyang, including human rights, but should make no promises to vote against resolutions or abstain in the absence of a change in North Korea’s behaviour.

Rob York is programme director for regional affairs at the Pacific Forum