Ma­hathir: Malaysia to re­open em­bassy in North Korea

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

MALAYSIA will re­open its Py­ongyang em­bassy, Prime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad said in sig­nalling a po­ten­tial warm­ing in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions that were strained af­ter last year’s assassination of the North Korean leader’s es­tranged half-brother at a Kuala Lumpur air­port.

Ma­hathir, who heads Malaysia’s newly elected gov­ern­ment, re­vealed the move dur­ing a three-day visit to Tokyo where he called for pur­su­ing “good re­la­tions” with North Korea’s young leader.

“Yes, we will re­open the em­bassy,” Ma­hathir told the Nikkei Asian Re­view in an in­ter­view on Mon­day, re­spond­ing to a ques­tion about whether he would con­sider re­open­ing Malaysia’s em­bassy in North Korea.

The mis­sion’s Malaysian staff was repa­tri­ated amid a diplo­matic row that erupted in the weeks fol­low­ing the Fe­bru­ary 2017 killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half-sib­ling of North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un.

Two women, In­done­sian Siti Aisyah and Viet­namese Doan Thi Huong, are standing trial in a Malaysian court on charges that they mur­dered Kim Jong Nam in a chem­i­cal weapon at­tack by smear­ing his face with the deadly VX nerve agent. Both de­fen­dants have pleaded not guilty, say­ing they were tricked into be­liev­ing that they were par­tic­i­pat­ing in a TV “prank show.”

The in­ci­dent sparked the row be­tween the two na­tions which had en­joyed bi­lat­eral ties since 1973. Malaysia re­called its ambassador, banned its cit­i­zens from trav­el­ling to North Korea and can­celled visa-free en­try for North Kore­ans.

In re­sponse, North Korea re­tal­i­ated with a travel ban on all Malaysians in Py­ongyang, trap­ping three diplo­mats and six fam­ily mem­bers, who were able to fly out only af­ter Malaysia agreed to hand over Kim Jong Nam’s re­mains and send home three North Kore­ans wanted for ques­tion­ing.

At the height of last year’s diplo­matic cri­sis, the gov­ern­ment of then-Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, along with South Korea and the United States, ac­cused North Korea of be­ing be­hind Kim’s killing.

But on Tues­day, Ma­hathir told a Tokyo con­fer­ence on the fu­ture of Asia, or­gan­ised by Nikkei, that his ad­min­is­tra­tion was more in­ter­ested in a new at­ti­tude dis­played by Kim Jong Un dur­ing the North Korean leader’s sum­mit with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Sin­ga­pore, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

“We used to think North Korea was a very bel­liger­ent coun­try that doesn’t care for the rest of the world, that they want to use nu­clear weapons,” Ma­hathir said. “But to­day he is mak­ing ef­fort to es­tab­lish bet­ter re­la­tions even with the United States.”

Ma­hathir, who will turn 93 on July 10 and who pre­vi­ously served as prime min­is­ter from 1981 un­til 2003, said the pub­lic should not be skep­ti­cal about the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in­volv­ing North Korea.

“We should take North Korea at face value and get it to par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions to mod­er­ate the rigid at­ti­tude it had be­fore,” he said. ”We should take it as gen­uine, and try to es­tab­lish good re­la­tions in­clud­ing a trade re­la­tion­ship with North Korea.”

Dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence in Tokyo with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, Ma­hathir said that when North Korea “makes a step for­ward to the right direc­tion, a bright fu­ture may lay ahead.”

– Be­narNews/Ra­dio Free Asia

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