Even as the US and other major powers are ratcheting up pressure on North Korea to make it abandon its nuclear and missile programmes, raising tensions in the Korean Peninsula, the reclusive country made an uncharacteristic marketing pitch for its tourism industry in Europe.
North Korean ambassador to Spain, Kim Hyok-Chol, urged more westerners to visit Pyongyang at an event organised by the North Korean Embassy in the Spanish capital, Madrid on Thursday (15 June).
As part of measures to promote North Korea tourism, the embassy will work to reduce the waiting time for obtaining visa to Pyongyang to one week, Kim said. "They say it is difficult to travel to our country, but it is not true."
Kim said that his country is ready to have more tourists through whom North Koreans "can learn a lot".
The tourism promotion event comes days after the North released Otto Warmbier, an American student it had detained for 17 months for his alleged anti-state acts. Whether the two events are part of a strategy by the hermit kingdom to lower tensions and engage more with world powers is not clear yet.
Ambassador Kim said North Korea is not isolated and accused the US of closing its doors. Instead he accused the US of creating a negative image about his country and demanded an apology for the same.
"The United States has used the media to demonize my country with false news. They say that my country is closed, that it is difficult to enter, but it is the Americans who are closing their doors," Kim was quoted as saying by the leading Spanish newspaper El País.
The event, held in collaboration with the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), is thought to be the first time North Korea opened the doors to the press to showcase its tourist attractions and invite them to the country.
Taleb Rifai, the secretary-general of WTO, who attended the tourism promotion event, also urged more Spaniards and Europeans to visit the communist nation.
"The more Europeans go to the DPRK, the better the Korean people will know the outside world," Rifai said, referring to North Korea by its official name Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Rifai, a Jordanian who recently visited the isolated country, described North Koreans as "more welcoming people".
He warned people to not become "hostage to the news" about North Korea.
"If you become just a news hostage each morning, your perception of that place is limited only to the limits of the impacts of the news. I'm not saying that the news is false. What I am saying is that they set limits to understand the people, to understand the place ... You have to go there, you have to see for yourself," Spanish tabloid Expansión cited Rifai as saying.
While the United Nations specialised agency for tourism encourages travel to North Korea, the UN Security Council has slapped stronger sanctions on the reclusive state for its repeated nuclear and missile tests.
The US, Japan, South Korea and China along with the UN have been pressuring North Korea to give on up its nuclear ambitions but in vein. Despite being threatened with further severe sanctions and amid the fear of nuclear war breaking out, the Kim Jong-un regime has refused to abandon its missiles programmes.
The North has said it is ready to react to any kind of conflict and even face a war than give up on its nuclear programmes.