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US appoints human rights envoy for N. Korea

WASHINGTON -- Backed by a $2 million budget, a former adviser to President Bush was appointed yesterday to advance human rights in North Korea, even as negotiations on the country's nuclear weapons program enter a critical stage.

The appointment of Jay Lefkowitz, who helped shape domestic policy at the White House, allows Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill to concentrate on efforts to end the weapons program.

With talks in suspension, Hill and top diplomats in China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia, are trying to finalize with North Korea a so-called statement of principles designed to set up another round of six-party negotiations.

This week, Hill said ''if we can get through this," an agreement might be possible in late September or October.

Human rights conditions in North Korea have been discussed periodically during the weapons negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has dealt separately with hunger in North Korea. In June, a US donation of more than 50,000 tons of food was announced as a humanitarian decision unrelated to efforts to get Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program.

Lefkowitz, whose post was authorized by Congress, is unlikely to travel to Pyongyang in the absence of normal diplomatic relations. But he will talk to officials in Asia and Europe, participate in human rights conferences, and might meet with North Koreans if they attend international meetings.

The White House said Lefkowitz ''will increase awareness and promote efforts to improve the human rights of the long-suffering North Korean people."

The new post, special envoy on human rights in North Korea, will be set up at the State Department's bureau of democracy, human rights, and labor.

As part of his job, Lefkowitz also will be responsible for expanding US-financed Radio Free Asia broadcasts to the area.

Lefkowitz has also served on the US delegation to the UN Human Rights Conference in Geneva, and the US delegation to the International Conference on Anti-Semitism.

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