US in New Diplomacy on North Korea

This undated file picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 11, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the production process of the new touch-screen mobile phone 'Arirang' at the May 11 factory at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AFP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

This undated file picture released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 11, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the production process of the new touch-screen mobile phone ‘Arirang’ at the May 11 factory at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AFP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

Washington. A US diplomat will head next week to Asia to discuss human rights in North Korea as Washington plans the next step in its troubled ties with Pyongyang, officials said Tuesday.

Robert King, the US envoy in charge of human rights in North Korea, will meet officials in China, South Korea and Japan as well as North Koreans resettled in the South during the August 19-29 trip, a State Department statement said.

Tensions have gradually eased after a crisis earlier this year when North Korea carried out its third nuclear test and threatened to strike the United States.

But the United States has been cool to North Korean overtures to restart talks, saying that it is only interested in sitting down if Pyongyang commits to giving up its nuclear weapons.

In a speech in June, Glyn Davies, the US pointman on North Korean policy, also signaled that the United States, like South Korea, would put a growing focus on human rights as well as the decades-old nuclear dispute.

The United States has also called for North Korea to release US citizen Kenneth Bae, a tour operator whom the regime arrested in November for allegedly entering with Christian literature.

The State Department and Bae’s sister say that the Korean-American, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, has been transferred to a hospital due to deteriorating health.

The United States and advocacy groups say that North Korea has perhaps the world’s worst human rights record, with no dissent tolerated and severe repercussions for North Koreans who try to emigrate.

The State Department said that King would also meet in Beijing with officials from the UN High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program.

King was involved in an agreement on February 29, 2012, in which the United States said it would provide food assistance to North Korea, which has reported malnutrition.

But the United States suspended the agreement after Kim Jong-Un’s regime launched a rocket in April 2012.

Agence France-Presse