As foreign minister, Julie Bishop is no stranger to walking a diplomatic tightrope.
Her weekend meeting with a North Korean official tested those skills. On one hand she pressed for the return of the remains of Australian soldiers missing in action in the Korean War. On the other hand she’s drawing a hard line on maintaining rigid sanctions against the regime until it abandons its nuclear weapons.
Bishop used a rare encounter with her North Korean counterpart to discuss the dozens of Australian soldiers still missing after the Korean War.
Ms Bishop met Ri Yong-ho on the sidelines of an ASEAN regional forum in Singapore at the weekend, which is virtually the only international summit attended by the North Korean official.
She raised the issue of 43 Australian soldiers still missing in action after the Korean conflict in the early 1950s and is confident he heeded her concerns.
‘I noted the Americans had received the remains of some of their soldiers after the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un and I asked the Australians also be able to access the sites,’ Ms Bishop told Sky News.
‘We offered forensic and expert assistance so that we can recover those Australian remains of soldiers after the Korean War, and he took that on board.’
Ms Bishop also pressed the North Korean official on his country’s progress towards dismantling its nuclear weapons facilities.
‘I took the opportunity to talk to him about the leader’s meeting and North Korea’s commitment to denuclearisation…he was noncommittal.’
Australia is insistent strict sanctions imposed on Pyongyang remain in place.
‘We want to see the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program,’ Ms Bishop said.
‘Until we see concrete steps that they are genuine to prove that they will dismantle, then the economic and political and diplomatic pressure on North Korea must remain.’
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The Australian Tribune with AAP