Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is their response to the admission by the government of North Korea that they possess nuclear weapons and to that Government's failure to re-engage in the six-nations talks.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government continue to share the deep concern of the international community about the
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development of nuclear weapons programmes by North Korea. We believe that North Korea is not justified in suspending its participation in the six-party talks. We continue to urge the North Korean regime to reconsider and, in the interest of its own people, to rejoin the talks so that a fourth round can take place soon.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister share the view expressed by Condoleezza Rice this weekend in Beijing that China will be pivotal in persuading Kim Jong-il's regime to return to the six-nation talks? Does she agree also that the threat posed to North Korea's neighbours is probably equal only to the threat posed to the rest of the world when North Korea acts as quartermaster? North Korea sold uranium hexafluoride to Pakistan that, in turn, was sold on to Libya, and, by such deeds, it endangers the security of the rest of the world by sourcing material to failed states and to terrorist organisations. Does the Minister agree that it is crucial that North Korea make the strategic choice that Condoleezza Rice called for this weekend to abandon its nuclear ambitions and return to the six-nation talks, if it is to be spared remaining as a beleaguered, dangerous and isolated pariah state?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with most of that, but perhaps I may try to put it in the right context. It is obvious that China has an enormously important role to play as the host of the six-nation talks, but other nations also have their part to play. The noble Lord will know that North Korea has indicated a willingness to return to the six-party talks, but on certain conditions. Those conditions of course relate to the United States of America. I do not believe that those conditions are reasonable; I merely point out to the noble Lord that that is where the North Koreans are focused.
As for threats, the North Koreans are indeed selling too much of the material overseas. One of the major problems with that is that an increasing part of the North Korean economy depends on those sales of nuclear material and missiles.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in April 2004, Pyongyang issued at least two wartime work guidelines that covered all aspects of the conduct of a total war, and that the DPRK has since committed to a major strategic build-up, which is seriously destabilising the Korean peninsula? Would she therefore agree that there might be an urgent need for creative initiatives to engage Pyongyang in constructive regional developments that might reduce its anxieties and pre-empt its own possible intention of a pre-emptive military strike to prevent what it sees as its potential destruction?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords. Of course, that is exactly one of the issues that could be discussed were North Korea to return to the six-nation talks. Those talks were meant to cover not just the concerns of the rest of the world about North Korea's nuclear capability but the security concerns that North Korea has expressed.
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It is worrying that when the North Korean Government withdrew from the six-party talks they said that they were doing so for "an indefinite period" and that they were taking measures,
"to bolster . . . nuclear weapons arsenal"
"to manufacture nukes for self-defence"
against the US's "hostile policy". So, it is a very difficult question. We need to re-engage with North Korea precisely to address those points.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, if, as seems all too likely, the North Koreans, who are running a horrible regime, with public executions and all sorts of other horrors, refuse to come back into the six-nation talks, and if the Chinese, despite their assurances to Condoleezza Rice, fail to use their weight to push the North Koreans, is there an alternative strategy to the effect that North Korea should be put into a kind of total economic isolation to bring it to its senses? Do the British Government support that?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord was right when he spoke about the horrible nature of the North Korean regime. We discussed that in February last year in some detail.
We need for the moment to concentrate on the mechanisms that have been agreed with China and the others in the six-party talks to try to get the North Koreans back into discussions. At the moment, I do not think that Her Majesty's Government will rule out any action to persuade the North Koreans that they really must come back to the talks, in the interests as much of their own people as of the peace of the region.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does my noble friend recall the recent visit of two very brave North Korean women, who gave evidence to the House about the inhumane treatment of people who escape from North Korea into China? They spoke about the rigid and inflexible attitude of the Chinese Government and the enforcement of repatriation. Would the talks, if ever they take place, include references to that?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the six-party talks do not cover human rights issues. Those are being dealt with through the United Nations. My noble friend is right to refer to the visit of the defectors, and I can tell him that on 4 April two other defectors from North Korea are to pay a visit to London. My honourable friend Mr Rammell will be talking to them about their experiences. My honourable friend is also going to Geneva next week to address a meeting on North Korea together with the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn. As I say, these issues are being addressed not through the six-party talks, but through the mechanisms of the United Nations.
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that we should not overestimate British interests and British influence over what happens within North Korea? The most important thing is for Britain, together with her European allies, to support the six-party talks-which involve those most directly affected by the deteriorating situation in North Korea-but otherwise to work through the United Nations?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, but that is not because of any sense of disengagement from the six-party talks; rather it is that those who are principally concerned are the prime movers on this issue. On 11 February, one day after the suspension by the North Koreans of their participation, we issued a statement to say how much we regretted that move. Moreover, on the same day Luxembourg, as the holder of the EU Presidency, also issued a statement expressing regret at their withdrawal from the talks and urging them to return to the discussions. I think that we have a clear perspective on our role in this. It is one of strong support for the six-party talks, but we do not see ourselves as one of the prime movers. That role is taken quite rightly and properly by those who are most directly affected.