The U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced it would hold another round of direct discussions with North Korea next week and would assign a new special envoy to focus full time on engagement with Pyongyang, The New York Times reported (see GSN, Oct. 19).
U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies will take the place of special envoy Stephen Bosworth in heading up U.S. diplomacy toward the North, department spokesman Mark Toner said.
"It’s important to stress this is a change in personnel, not a change in policy," Toner told reporters.
Bosworth had worked as a part-time diplomat for the State Department. The assignment of a full-time diplomat with extensive experience in nuclear-weapon issues could lead to deeper U.S.-North Korea engagement, experts said.
The bilateral discussions on resuming the paralyzed six-party talks aimed at lasting North Korean denuclearization are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Geneva. Davies and Bosworth would represent the United States opposite North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan. Bosworth last met with Kim in New York in late July.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il reaffirmed his position that the six-nation talks should be relaunched on an unconditional basis. The aid-for-denuclearization negotiations, last held in December 2008, encompass China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States.
"Our principal position remains unchanged: that the six-way talks should be quickly resumed without preconditions," Kim said in written remarks provided to ITAR-Tass. Kim said Pyongyang was still committed to a process agreed upon in September 2005 of gradual nuclear disarmament in exchange for massive infusions of foreign aid, security guarantees, and diplomatic relations with Washington, the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency said.
Toner said next week's talks would be a "continuation of the exploratory meetings to determine if North Korea is prepared to fulfill its commitments under the 2005 joint statement of the six-party talks and its nuclear, international obligations, as well as take concrete steps toward denuclearization."
Washington and Seoul are demanding Pyongyang cease all uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities before the six-nation talks are restarted. The allies also want North Korea to readmit expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to ensure nuclear work has halted.
Seoul and Washington are under increasing pressure from Moscow and Beijing to return to the nuclear negotiating table, Brookings Institution East Asia expert Jonathan Pollack said.
The United States and South Korea, though, want to resist a repeat of the cycle of past negotiations in which Pyongyang implements some disarmament measures and is rewarded with foreign aid only to reverse course later with new provocative actions. At the same time, the allies worry that a North Korea kept out in the cold for too long could become even more hostile toward the South and more of a nuclear proliferation risk.
An anonymous U.S. diplomat traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said, "If we don't engage, that could result in miscalculations by the North Koreans."
In his interview with ITAR-Tass, Kim claimed: "We built our nuclear deterrent to protect our sovereignty in the face of the United States' blatant nuclear threats and its escalating hostile policy" (Knowlton/Choe, The New York Times, Oct. 19).
Toner said in next week's talks, U.S. diplomats would be looking for a "seriousness of purpose" and "firm signs" that Pyongyang is prepared to abide by the stipulations of the September 2005 denuclearization agreement, Agence France-Presse reported.
"We're not going, as we have said many times, to reward North Korea just for returning to the table or give them anything new for actions they've agreed to take," Toner said at a media briefing.
Since the last round of six-nation talks in late 2008, North Korea has detonated a second nuclear test device, test-fired a number of missiles, unveiled a uranium-enrichment capacity, and has been accused of killing 50 South Koreans in two 2010 attacks.
"As we have seen in the past, sometimes when engagement is broken off, it causes them to lash out in dangerous and unsettling ways," the anonymous Obama official said.
Mansfield Foundation Executive Director Gordon Flake said the decision to shift Davies from Vienna to focusing full time on North Korea shows the Obama administration is honing in on the nuclear-weapon issue.
"Putting nonpolitical professionals in these positions doesn't bespeak of grandiose, Hail Mary plans on North Korea. This is a careful, coordinated, and measured approach done in consultation with our allies South Korea and Japan," Flake said.
Victor Cha, who was the Bush administration's special envoy on North Korea, said the new engagement with Pyongyang might lower the chances of new hostilities even if no headway is made on the nuclear front.
"North Korea leaves you only with bad and worse options," Cha said. "Avoiding dialogue only promises a runaway nuclear program and more provocations."
Engagement could also lead to "small victories in freezing elements of the [nuclear] program," the North Korea expert said (Shaun Tandon, Agence France-Presse I/Google News, Oct. 19).
In Vienna, Davies has attained a reputation as a decisive negotiator who extracted hard-won support from multiple nations for more action on Iran's disputed nuclear development program, the Associated Press reported (see related GSN story, today).
"He's a good appointment for the North Korea job, as it's a heck of a challenge," ex-IAEA chief weapons inspector Olli Heinonen said, adding, "He's a good communicator and willing to talk to adversaries. He's easygoing and fairly low-key but can be tough when he needs to be."
Davies has some experience dealing with North Korea. In the Bush administration he was a deputy to the U.S. negotiator to the six-nation talks.
Veteran envoy Clifford Hart will be Washington's new top negotiator at the six-party talks.
"Both are quick studies, and it won't take them long to figure out that the North is not serious about denuclearization," Cha predicted (Matthew Pennington, Associated Press/Google News, Oct. 20).
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday demanded that U.S. diplomats not agree to any concessions to prod Pyongyang back to nuclear- disarmament negotiations, AFP reported. "The days of paying North Korea in exchange for promises that it does not intend to fulfill are over," Kyl said. "In its efforts to engage the North Korean regime, the key will be seeing if the administration sticks to its guarantees that there will be no incentives provided to North Korea if this bilateral negotiation eventually leads to a return to the multilateral six-party talks," the Senate's No. 2 Republican said (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, Oct. 19).
Meanwhile, a South Korean lawmaker on Wednesday asserted that the North possessed a second uranium-enrichment plant in addition to the site revealed to the world last November at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Liberal Forward Party member Park Sun-young said that the subterranean plant in Dongchang County on North Korea's west coast was constructed between 2001 and 2006. She said a North Korean armed forces official familiar with the site was the source of her information.
"North Korea has already been developing nuclear weapons using enriched uranium since 2007, switching from its plutonium-production program. But the (South Korean) government has not been aware of this fact," Park said in a statement (Yonhap News Agency, Oct. 19).