In an attempt to jump-start multilateral negotiations with North Korea, the US used low-level direct contacts with the Kim regime through the United Nations, according to an anonymous US embassy official. According to the Boston Globe and an AP report in USA Today, nothing substantial about nonproliferation was discussed, but assurances were given to the Kim regime on sovereignty and security:
U.S. officials met with North Korean officials in New York last week to discuss American policy toward the Stalinist state, a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo said Thursday.
“We can confirm that we had working-level contact with North Korean officials on Friday, May 13, in New York,” an embassy official said. “This channel is used to convey messages about U.S. policy, not to negotiate.” …
A report in Japan’s Asahi newspaper on Thursday said senior U.S. State Department officials told North Korean officials on Friday that Washington recognizes the North as a sovereign nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Il.
The U.S. officials also told the North Korean side that the administration of President Bush does not intend to attack North Korea, the Asahi said.
The report said the meeting took place at North Korea’s representative office at the United Nations.
The Boston Globe reported in its Thursday edition that the meeting was attended by Joseph DiTrani, the U.S. special envoy to the six-nation nuclear talks, and Jim Foster, the head of the State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs.
Interesting. The Bush administration appears to have arranged this meeting after a long policy of refusing any direct bilateral contact with North Korea over nuclear disarmament, a policy that frustrated some in the State Department. The Kim regime dug in its heels, however, saying it would not return to the bargaining table without some kind of security assurances from the US about its continued sovereignty and existence. It looks like Bush has reconsidered, at least long enough to toss the dice with Pyongyang to see if that approach will break the impasse.
Perhaps it will work, although Kim is a master manipulator. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he found another pretext for delaying multilateral talks, having received what he demanded at Turtle Bay. If it fails to bring Kim back to the table, Bush can demonstrate that he made the attempt to use all of the options available to satisfy Pyongyang of US good faith. More likely, though, Kim will exploit this as a precedent to refuse any multilateral negotiations in the future.