Secret US-DPRK Talks? Chris Nelson Deciphers Recent White House Comments

[A number of statements by US Administration officials in recent weeks have some experts wondering whether there are secret US-DPRK talks happening through back channels and what might be the contents of such talks. In the 24 May 2012 edition of the Nelson Report, Chris Nelson ponders the significance of comments by Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, as reported by Yonhap news agency. We reprint the Yonhap story below, followed by Chris Nelson’s commentary, with kind permission of the author. –CanKor]

WHAT’S UP WITH THE US AND DPRK? (by Chris Nelson)

That other major “war and peace” problem, N. Korea, also may be the subject of renewed discussions, at least… it seems very premature to talk about “negotiations”. We confirmed in Tuesday’s Report S. Korean and VOA accounts of a “secret” Administration mission to Pyongyang at the end of April, just prior to the failed ICBM/satellite launch.

(For current coverage in the ROK, see “U.S. Officials in Secret Visit to N. Korea Before Rocket Launch” in the English version of Chosun Ilbo.)

Yesterday, an official White House briefing, and then in Tokyo, State Dept. Special Envoy Glyn Davies, who was not on the mission, can be argued to have indirectly confirmed both the trip, and the purpose we had speculated in last night’s Report… that is, interest on both sides in trying to walk the situation back to the 2/29 agreement, including US food aid as a buy-in for resurrecting the agreement to freeze nuclear weapons and missile tests. Read the rest of this entry »

US-NK Talks: No Expectations, No Breakthroughs, by Chris Nelson

[The following is taken from three editions of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by the author. –CanKor.]

22 February 2012: Day 1 US-NK Talks… No Expectations

US special envoy Glyn Davies (L) speaks to the media after the first day of bilateral talks with DPRK in Beijing on 23 February 2012. (Photo by Mark RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images)

Coincidence, but predictable… both Iranian and N. Korean nuclear ambitions are on the table now, the former with potentially dire consequences for failure, the latter, frankly, expected to be just more of the same.

US-N. Korea “exploratory” talks are now underway in Beijing, and preliminary conversation with Administration sources makes clear there has been no advance indication from Pyongyang that the situation is back to its potentially positive elements just prior to Kim Jong-il’s death…much less ready to pick up and move forward:

“Chris, there’s a reason these talks are called ‘exploratory’, and it’s because we just don’t know whether the North is ready to take real steps in the direction of denuclearization, better relations with neighbors, and all of the humanitarian/ human rights issues we care about. Not pessimistic or optimistic, just realistic…”

You will recall that the weekend before Kim’s demise, a US announcement was expected the following Monday of “nutritional assistance” in return for some movement on nuclear issues, to be followed at the end of the week by Special Envoys Glyn Davies and Ford Hart to Beijing, to test the 6 Party Talks waters. That meeting has just begun, and upon arrival, Davies told the press that resuming the 6PT is really up to the North, adding that he, personally, wants “to talk about the future, not about the past”. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hungry Child in North Korea by Karin Lee

[Long-time CanKor supporter Karin Lee, Executive Director of the Washington-based National Committee on North Korea (NCNK), wrote this article for The Peninsula, a Blog of the Korea Economic Institute (KEI) on 1 February 2012. Ms Lee explores the current status of a US-DPRK deal on food aid that was expected to be announced during the week following the death of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il.  –CanKor]

Children at a nursery in Huichon, Chagang Province, 1998 (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

In December 2010, North Korea began asking multiple countries for food aid. Its request to the U.S. came in early 2011, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that a deal seemed close, with the U.S. prepared to provide 240,000 metric tons (MTs) of assistance. Kim Jong Il died soon after this news hit the press, and details of the potential deal were never announced.

In the ideal world, Ronald Reagan’s “hungry child” knows no politics. But the case of North Korea is far from ideal. The U.S. government states it does not take politics into consideration when determining whether to provide aid to North Korea. Instead, the decision is based on three criteria: need in North Korea, competing demands for assistance, and the ability to monitor aid effectively. Yet these three criteria are subjective and tinged by politics.

In 2011 a succession of four assessment delegations (one by U.S. NGOs, one by the U.S. government, one by the EU and one by the UN) visited the DPRK. All found pretty much the same thing: widespread chronic malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women, and cases of acute malnutrition. The UN confirmed the findings late last year, reporting chronic malnutrition in children under five in the areas visited — 33% overall, and 45% in the northern part of the country.

Some donors responded quickly. For example, shortly after its July assessment, the EU announced a 10 Million Euro donation. Following its own May assessment, however, the U.S. government was slow to make a commitment. Competing demands may have played a role. In July, the predicted famine in the Horn of Africa emerged, prompting a U.S. response of over $668 million in aid to “the worst food crisis in half a century.” While there was no public linkage between U.S. action on the African famine and inaction on North Korea, there could have been an impact. Read the rest of this entry »

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