Time to resume ‘normal relations’ with North Korea, says Dr M

(FMT) – Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has hinted at a further thawing of relations between Putrajaya and Pyongyang, over a year after he said Malaysia would reopen its embassy in North Korea, shuttered in the wake of the diplomatic row sparked by the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking to South Korean news agency Yonhap, Mahathir who is in the country on an official visit, said Putrajaya is reaching out to North Korea.

“We want to be friendly with all countries in the world… even North Korea can provide some trade for us. We don’t like confrontation,” he was quoted as saying.

He also described as “suspicious” talk of Pyongyang being behind the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, saying it has not affected Malaysia’s security.

“So now it is time to resume normal relations between Malaysia and North Korea,” he said in the interview.

Malaysia’s once-close ties with North Korea were severely downgraded after Jong Nam was killed at klia2 in February 2017, when two women smeared his face with VX nerve agent which the United Nations lists as a weapon of mass destruction.

During their trial, the women said they were tricked into believing they were part of a reality show and did not know they were handling poison.

The US and South Korea meanwhile said the murder was orchestrated by Pyongyang.

The ensuing diplomatic row saw Malaysia recalling its ambassador to North Korea, banning all travel to the country, and cancelling visa-free entry for North Koreans.

North Korea retaliated with a similar travel ban on all Malaysians in Pyongyang.

In his interview with Yonhap, Mahathir said North Korean officials were planning to visit Malaysia and that the government would talk to them about “the appropriate time” to reopen the embassy.

He last mentioned the issue while on a trip to Japan in June 2018, when he confirmed that Malaysia would reopen its embassy in Pyongyang.