Oct 31, 1:41 PM EDT

EU confirms North Korea invite for rights visit


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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- A European Union official on Friday confirmed that North Korea has invited the EU's special representative for human rights to visit, which would be a significant step toward resuming a human rights dialogue that Pyongyang broke off in 2003.

On Thursday, a North Korean diplomat to the United Nations told The Associated Press that the invitation to Stavros Lambrinidis had been sent.

"The invite is currently being considered," the EU's foreign affairs spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said in an email. "The two sides will discuss timing and substance of a visit through appropriate diplomatic channels."

The EU has said Lambrinidis recently met with a Pyongyang representative.

Kocijancic also said a team of experts from the union's diplomatic service had been scheduled to visit Pyongyang next week for meetings with authorities, but "new Ebola-related entry restrictions" enacted by the government have postponed it.

For North Korea to offer any dialogue on human rights, a topic which its government until recently would not discuss, is seen as significant by the international community. But such an offer also has been greeted with skepticism by rights groups and some diplomats.

North Korea also has offered the possibility of visits by United Nations rights officials, but the North Korea diplomat, Kim Un Chol, said Thursday that those offers would be dropped unless a U.N. resolution on the country removes any reference to the International Criminal Court before Saturday.

Kim treated the EU invitation as a separate issue and said the visit by Lambrinidis is expected next March.

North Korea has been on the defensive since a U.N. commission of inquiry early this year detailed what it said were vast human rights abuses in the impoverished but nuclear-armed country and warned that leader Kim Jong Un could be held accountable.

The new EU-Japan resolution at the U.N. echoes the report's recommendations, saying the Security Council should refer North Korea's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court.

Although ally China, a permanent council member, has signaled it would veto such a move, Pyongyang has been unnerved that international attention to its dismal human rights record hasn't seemed to fade.

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Associated Press Writer John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.

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