US, North Korea in war of nerves over human rights By Yi Whan-woo

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The United States is increasingly voicing concerns about human rights abuses in North Korea as denuclearization talks remain stalled.

Analysts here say the Donald Trump administration may use the human rights issue as leverage in the talks with North Korea, increasing pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime.

On May 6, the U.S. Department of State took aim at North Korea’s dire human rights record in a statement delivered by its spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

It said the Pyongyang regime had subjected its people to “egregious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and that the U.S. remained “gravely concerned and deeply troubled” by the abuse.

The choice of the word, “egregious,” is notable, according to South Korean experts, because the State Department removed it in describing the North’s human rights situations when it released its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” in March.

On the civic level, the father of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died soon after being sent home from imprisonment in North Korea in a vegetative state, said Kim should be called “criminal Kim” not “chairman Kim.”

“He’s a criminal and he’s a murderer,” Fred Warmbier told a U.N. symposium promoting international cooperation on abductions, on May 10.

He argued that calling Kim a chairman, as used by U.S. President Donald Trump, raised Kim’s status on the world stage, and said this “makes me sick.”

“I’d say the U.S. is tacitly pressing North Korea with human rights issues,” Korea Defense Network President Shin In-kyun said. “Washington, of course, does not want to flip over the negotiable table and is cautious about provoking the North too much.”

Shin pointed out that Trump and other high-ranking U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,had not touched on human rights violations after the breakdown of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in late February.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, agreed with Shin.

“Crossing the line on North Korean human rights will bring an end to the already stalled nuclear talks,” Yang said. “But the U.S. wants something that can work as a stimulant for dialogue and this is where human rights can fit in.”

Citing the policy research director of the Institute for American Studies at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 11 lambasted the State Department’s statement.

The KCNA called the statement “nothing but a sophistry” aimed at “tarnishing the DPRK’s human rights.”

The KCNA said, “The latest release of the press statement by the U.S. State Department is clear evidence that the present administration follows in the footsteps of the previous administrations in regard to the policy hostile to the DPRK.”

It argued that the U.S. was making “desperate and foolish efforts” to bring the North down by clinging to the human rights issue along with the “maximum pressure” policy.

“It should bear in mind that such an attempt will never work against us but instead push us dynamically to a direction that the U.S. does not want to see,” it said.