US-NK Talks constructive, but… by Chris Nelson

[The following is taken from the 17 October 2011 edition of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by Chris Nelson. An update by Chris was added to the bottom on 26 October. –CanKor.]

US special envoy Stephen Bosworth in Pyongyang (Photo: Reuters 2009)

US sources confirm Special Envoy Steve Bosworth will meet with his N. Korean counterpart next week in Geneva, Oct. 24-25, as a follow-up to last week’s State Visit by S. Korean president Lee Myung-bak, and consultations with President Obama and his foreign policy advisors at the NSC and State.

No official announcement from the Administration as yet, but sources here say they’ve been privately informed of the plans for Bosworth to explore the DPRK’s readiness to resume the 6 Party talks under conditions laid down by both Washington and Seoul which, some observers predict, will be partially met….thus throwing the ball back into to the US/ROK court on whether to proceed.

As a veteran USG player privately warns: “There are many, many moving parts in terms of what the U.S. has asked for and what the Norks need to say/do in response. To say that the Norks will come to Geneva and then everything will be on track is, to say the least, premature.”

Bosworth met with DPRK officials last July, and there has been rising pressure on both the US and S. Korean governments from China, and from internal policy critics, to resume diplomatic outreach in hopes of a deal containing further missile and warhead miniaturization testing…even if “denuclearization”, still the official purpose of the 6PT, seems unlikely under currently foreseeable circumstances.

Feeding this conservative, or modest assessment of possible outcomes: informed sources report that while the Obama/Lee personal chemistry extends across the board on economic and security issues more broadly, there still exists a sense for the US side of Lee’s reluctance, or skepticism about the DPRK illustrated in his commentary that often plays mainly as a defense of a relatively hard-line on outreach. How NK policy will be affected by the coming ROK domestic political debate is one big question.

We noted last week’s talk by NK nuclear expert Joel Wit on a report being released this week on what needs to be explored in hopes of heading-off successful testing (and potential export) of a DPRK ICBM and a miniaturized warhead.

UPDATE 26 October 2011:

Special Envoy Steve Bosworth wrapped-up two days of talks in Geneva with N. Korea’s Kim Kye-gwan saying he is “confident that with continued effort on both sides, we can reach a reasonable base of departure for a return to the 6 Party process.”

And why that confidence? Because the atmosphere of the discussions was “very positive” and “constructive”. Translation, from a former State Dept negotiator:

“This leaves open whether Steve means more discussion in capitals and/or between Pyongyang and Washington. But the ‘continued effort’ remark I assume is signaling that both more discussion in capitals and more bilateral talks will be needed to resume Six Party Talks.”

For sure….here’s Reuter’s on State’s briefing here:

U.S. officials said there was no set timetable for the next round of talks and a senior State Department official suggested fresh discussions any time soon were unlikely.

“We do think it’s going to be not a matter of days and weeks but probably a matter weeks and months before we’re going to be able to really know where we’re going next on this,” the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters. “We expect it to take some time for them to digest what we talked about in Geneva.”

The talks on Tuesday were delayed at the request of North Korea, the U.S. diplomatic mission said earlier in a brief statement that declined to elaborate. The morning session was canceled but the delegations had a joint lunch at the DPRK mission followed by an hour of talks.

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