Britain to re-open ties with North Korea

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The Independent Online

Britain is to restore diplomatic relations with communist North Korea.

Britain is to restore diplomatic relations with communist North Korea.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook signalled an end to the 50-year cold war freeze by saying it could be helpful in resolving "strong tensions" between North and South Korea.

The move came as Mr Cook and Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to the South Korean capital Seoul for an Asia-Europe summit.

Canada, Italy and Australia have already established relations and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is due to visit this weekend.

Britain has recently re-established diplomatic ties with a number of nations previously out of bounds.

They include Iran, Sudan, Libya and Cuba.

It is thought that initially British diplomats based in the Chinese capital Beijing would be given responsibility for the area but it is not known when the formal link will be re-established.

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude said the Government should still treat North Korea with caution.

"North Korea's despotic regime treats its own people with contempt and has attempted to blackmail the world using the threat of nuclear weapons. Britain should continue to sup with a long spoon," he said.

Amnesty International said the Government must use the resumption of diplomatic relations to press for greater openness.

International human rights organisations like Amnesty have long been barred from North Korea which is widely believed to engage in torture, ill-treatment of prisoners and other violations.

"There is a responsibility for Robin Cook to push for more openness and less secrecy on the state of human rights and for access for organisations like Amnesty International," said spokesman Richard Bunting.

In a speech to businessmen later today Mr Blair is expected to praise South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize this month for his efforts to begin the unification process of the divided country where a demilitarised zone separates the two sides.

Mr Blair is also expected in his speech to send a clear message to feuding ministers in London, saying government needs to "forget the froth and focus on the fundamentals".

The Prime Minister was expected to say: "In modern politics, in the modern media age, the pressures of the short-term are powerful but the responsibility of government is to focus on the long-term, on the decisions needed to deliver long-term strengths.

"With the relentless focus on day-to-day events and personalities it's vital that political leaders never lose sight of this, of the need to forget the froth and focus on the fundamentals.

"Political leaders who fail to face up to the fundamentals, fail the first step of leadership."

Mr Blair will portray himself as "a committed long-termist" adding: "There's no easy road to success - every step of it involves big choices."

Mr Blair is also expected to focus on Britain's record in attracting inward investment from Asia, saying it secures thousands of jobs with firms such as Hyundai, Samsung and LG, all now well established in the UK.

And he will address concerns about Britain's decision to stay out of the first wave of the euro saying: "I know how important the issue is for foreign investors, that's one of the reasons we have resisted short-term calls to rule out British membership."

But the Prime Minister will go on simply to restate the Government's well-versed position on the single currency.

Tomorrow, Mr Blair - on the final leg of his 24-hour, 12,000-mile whistle stop visit to the region - is expected to address the opening session of the summit along with French president Jacques Chirac.

Britain hosted the last Asia-Europe summit in 1998 and Mr Blair is understood to have made the exhausting round trip in response to a personal request from the South Korean president.