Spain became the latest European government on Friday to announce it would establish diplomatic relations with North Korea, in what it said was a bid to promote reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
Spain followed Britain, which set up diplomatic ties with Pyongyang on Tuesday.
Austria, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Finland, Portugal and Sweden have also announced their intention of setting up diplomatic ties with the communist state.
Madrid's decision, reached Friday at a cabinet meeting, followed the October 20 announcement by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in Seoul that he would move quickly to recognize Pyongyang.
"The establishment of diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is deemed acceptable because it will contribute to the process of reconciliation and normalization on the Korean peninsula," said a government statement.
"It will allow us to address with the authorities in North Korea the issues that are of concern to the Spanish government," the statement added.
The move had been expected. On Tuesday, after Britain announced it was establishing diplomatic links with Pyongyang, a diplomat in the Spanish foreign ministry said the internal process had already started in Spain.
"The idea is that it be done quickly, at the beginning of next year," once it was clear there was a consensus with Spain's European partner, he added.
Spain gave no immediate indication of whether it planned to set up an embassy in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
North Korea, which is ruled by a Marxist, totalitarian regime, has not had formal diplomatic relations with most Western countries since it was founded in 1948.
It is still officially at war with South Korea, as no peace treaty was signed after the Korean War ended in a cease-fire in 1953.
Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc a decade ago, the divide between North and South Korea has remained one of the only Cold War borders left in the world.
But North Korea has gradually begun to emerge from its isolation, prompted by warming relations with its neighbor to the south.
A groundbreaking summit meeting in Pyongyang in June between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung laid the foundation for other states to kick-start their relations with Pyongyang.
Since the June summit, both Koreas have taken a variety of peace initiatives, allowing relatives torn apart by the war to be reunited, albeit temporarily.
The South Korean president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, this month for his peace efforts on the peninsula.
Apart from Britain, Germany and Italy, the other four members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations -- Canada, France, Japan and the United States -- do not have relations with Pyongyang. Japan did hold new talks on establishing ties in August this year.
Last October, French President Jacques Chirac said France did not intend to renew ties with North Korea in the immediate future until there had been progress on human rights and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons -- MADRID (AFP)
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