At his first press conference since his appointment, Lefkowitz said all aspects of U.S. links with North Korea had to be assessed to push Pyongyang to grant human rights to its citizens:
We are looking at a very tough set of issues. We must be willing to look at all aspects of our relations with North Korea and our allies' relationship with North Korea.The reference to "allies" would be Tokyo and Seoul, and perhaps Beijing. Pyongyang's continued existence is closely tied to Beijing's sponsorship, while Seoul and even Tokyo have sought more ways to engage North Korea economically.
The United States, along with South Korea and Japan, is a key food donor to North Korea despite the nuclear standoff. However, the question of linking food and other humanitarian aid to human rights was not directly offered by Lefkowitz, but was something he refused to rule out when asked by reporters.
I think consistent with what the president's overall approach is on human rights, and bringing North Korea directly into the community of nations, we have to take a look at all different areas of our relationship.Lefkowitz said he wanted to "directly engage" with North Korean officials on human rights even though the Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations. "I think if North Korea wants legitimacy ... making progress on human rights is abolutely necessary," he said.
He also said that he wanted to work with the United Nations to ensure that China "lives up to its international obligations" in terms of protecting the rights of North Korean refugees who fled across the border into China. As who knows me is aware, this is a tack I firmly agree with.
The North Korean regime is known for having used food as a means of control, so employing such a tactic against them would at the very least be just deserts. But my primary concern is the timing of such a proposal when we are trying to get the six-way talks to work. Human rights is a sensitive issue for Pyongyang (and its sponsore Beijing), and North Korea had earlier expressed anger at Lefkowitz's appointment, citing it as a reason to delay the six-way talks.
Human rights in North Korea is a very important issue, and I'm glad to see that President Bush has really set his mind on doing something about it, but like the Japanese kidnapee issue which also needs resolution, now may not be the best time to start a second diplomatic front against Pyongyang just as they are starting to come around on nuke talks. Not if we are serious about succeeding at bringing North Korea into the community of nations.