38 North: Dealing with the Kims by Joel Wit & Jenny Town

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by Joel Wit and Jenny Town. This article originally appeared on www.foreignpolicy.com, and has been reprinted with permission. The original can be found here. Please follow our link to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

This week’s meeting between U.S. Special Envoy Glyn Davies and North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan will be the first official encounter between the United States and North Korea since the death of Kim Jong Il two months ago. After endless speculation by the press and experts about the future of North Korea, this meeting will be an important reality check: an opportunity to take the pulse of the new management in Pyongyang, and particularly to discern changes or continuity in its efforts to build weapons of mass destruction.

Even on a good day, of course, we underestimate the difficulties of dealing with North Korea at our peril. Korea specialists are fond of calling it the “land of no good options” (although that is probably true for many foreign-policy challenges facing the United States today). The North remains the poster child for rogue states because of 60 years of bad behavior, including its more recent nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009 and conventional military attacks on South Korea in 2010. If there is anyone who knows that, it’s those of us who have had direct experience dealing with North Koreans at the negotiating table, on the ground, or conducting any other business face-to-face with them. 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 Pre Re-engagement Party for the Six Party Talks gets livelier… by Jeremy Paltiel

[As US negotiator Stephen W. Bosworth begins discussions with DPRK first vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan in Geneva today, CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy Paltiel, Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, checks the Chinese media for indicators that re-engagement on the nuclear issue might actually get off the runway this time around. –CanKor.]

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (R Front) shakes hands with Kang Sok Ju (L Front), vice premier of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), at the airport in Pyongyang, capital of DPRK, Oct. 23, 2011. Li Keqiang arrived here on Sunday for an official goodwill visit to the DPRK. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

Li’s mission is explicitly calculated to jump-start the Six Party Talks , and for the first time, China has spoken of playing a “coordinating” xietiao role. (李克强将访问朝鲜、韩国) Li was met at Pyongyang’s airport by Vice Premier Kang Sok Ju,and the proceeded to Mansongdae where he met with Premier Choe Yong Rim, who had visited China only a month ago. (Hu Jintao Meets with DPRK Premier Choe Yong Rim, Member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee) Choe mentioned explicitly the implementation of 19 September 2005 Joint Statement, though not the 13 February 2007 Action Plan. (李克强与朝鲜内阁总理会谈 支持尽早重启六方会谈)

Other commentators have deduced that the momentum for re-engagement on the nuclear issue is gathering force (See Jeffrey Lewis, Peter Hayes and Scott Bruce “Kim Jong Il’s Nuclear Diplomacy and the US Opening: Slow Motion Six-Party Engagement”), as newly-named US negotiator Glyn Davis prepares to meet North Korean counterparts in Geneva.

China is stepping up its activity on the Korean peninsula at a time when China’s relations with neighbouring countries and the US in Southeast and East Asia have been tarnished due to China’s aggressive stance on its maritime borders, both in relation to Japan and in the South China Sea. It has recently attempted to patch up relations with Vietnam (李克强与朝鲜内阁总理会谈 支持尽早重启六方会谈) and with Southeast Asia, and will no doubt seek to enhance the reputation of its diplomacy by trying to engineer a breakthrough by re-starting the Six Party Talks. Read the rest of this entry »

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