US Envoy Describes N. Korean Rights Situation as 'Appalling'

U.S. envoy said Monday that North Korean human rights issues can be discussed at the six-party denuclearization talks, describing the rights situation in the secretive state as ``appalling.''

Robert King, special envoy on North Korean human rights, who arrived in Seoul, Sunday, also expressed his willingness to visit Pyongyang.

``The six-party talks include a subgroup of the United States and the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). We will hold bilateral discussions within the context of the six-party talks,'' he said after meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan at the ministry in Seoul.

He continued, ``As we have said on many occasions, the relationship with the United States and North Korea will have to involve human rights.''

Asked about his assessment of the current human rights situation in North Korea, the envoy said, ``It's one of the worst places in terms of lack of human rights. ``The State Department annually reports on human rights conditions, and the status of human rights in North Korea is considered poor.''

With an updated report set to be released in a few weeks, King said it is expected to include few changes from what has been seen in the past. The envoy also called for the improvement of human rights in the reclusive state, saying the issue is an obstacle to normalizing Washington-Pyongyang relations.

``Improved relations between the United States and North Korea will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea. That's one of the important conditions,'' he said. King said he would be ``happy to go'' to Pyongyang if North Korea invites him.

He assumed the position of special envoy last November ― prior to his appointment, he worked for 24 years as chief of staff to Rep. Tom Lantos. Heavily involved in the planning and conducting of Lantos' human rights agenda, he played a key role in the passage of the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act.

He is scheduled to meet with South Korean officials, North Korean defectors and family members of abductees before leaving for Japan, Friday.

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