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The withdrawal of North Korea from the Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, has caused great concern among members of the international community. The pillars of the 1994 Framework Agreement between the United States and North Korea and the policy that led to the establishment of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, better known as KEDO, in 1995 are losing their relevance.

The European Union has shown a keen interest in the North Korean situation from the outset. It has provided extensive humanitarian and technical assistance as well as food aid to the people of the North. As a member of KEDO since 1997, the EU has cooperated with the U.S., Japan and South Korea toward ensuring the dismantling of existing North Korean nuclear facilities, providing for the North’s short-term energy needs and constructing safe and modern nuclear reactors according to the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.

In fact, the EU has earmarked 100 million euros ($110 million) for KEDO for the period 2001-2005. Of course, following recent developments, the whole KEDO project has been practically frozen.

The EU has taken the initiative in establishing diplomatic ties with North Korea in order to build bridges and foster direct contacts with the Pyongyang regime. The Stockholm European Council of March 23-24, 2001, agreed to enhance the role of the EU in support of peace, security and freedom on the Korean Peninsula. The visit (May 2-4, 2001) to Pyongyang and Seoul by Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, European Commissioner Chris Patten and EU High Representative Javier Solana for talks with leaders of both Koreas were aimed at bringing lasting peace between the North and South and at supporting the momentum created by the Pyongyang summit (June 2000).

On Sept. 18, European Commission President Romano Prodi of the European Commission hailed the apparent — yet, unfortunately, short-lived — breakthrough in Japan-North Korea relations following Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang and paid particular attention to resolving the issue of abducted Japanese citizens.

Regrettably, as the crisis with North Korea escalated and the “sunshine policy” that rose out of the Pyongyang Summit faded, the Council of EU Ministers on Nov. 19 stated that the failure to resolve the nuclear issue would jeopardize the future development of EU-North Korea relations. The council stressed that the EU’s aim is to play a supporting role in international efforts toward reducing tensions on the peninsula and consult with all relevant partners toward a peaceful solution.

On Jan. 11, 2003, the EU condemned North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT and, on Feb. 24, welcomed the IAEA-adopted resolution that found North Korea in breach of its international obligations. The issue has since been referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Solana, the EU high representative for foreign policy, visited Seoul and Tokyo on Feb. 9-11, meeting with Koizumi, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba. In these talks, Solana acknowledged the seriousness of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and expressed the EU’s intention to send a high-level mission to the North, when conditions are favorable, to meet with leader Kim Jong Il and try to act as a catalyst in the crisis.

According to Solana, the message to the North should be clear: The crisis must be solved through multilateral negotiations with respect to neighboring countries, including Japan and South Korea, and international bodies such as the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council. In addition, North Korea must agree to completely dismantle its nuclear facilities.

Upon delivery of this message, Pyongyang could be offered economic and technical assistance (along the lines of a “reborn” KEDO) so that it can provide sufficient energy to its citizens.

As recently as last week, a North Korean high-ranking official visited Athens and Brussels. In Athens, Greece reiterated the EU position (as mentioned above). The North Korean envoy listened carefully and promised to convey the message to Pyongyang.

In summary, the EU has maintained a channel of communication with Pyongyang. Through the EU, the international community possesses a vehicle to deliver the necessary messages to North Korea. By the same token, the North, by talking with the EU, may comprehend the unproductive nature of its current stance more easily and adopt a cooperative approach without further escalation.

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