North Korea has suddenly made conciliatory gestures since mid May, after escalating tension on the Korean peninsula by declaring the nullification of the armistice agreement, posing threats of nuclear attacks against South Korea and the United States, and shutting down the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
For example, it allowed Japanese Cabinet Secretariat Advisor Isao Iijima’s visit on May 14 and sent its special envoy Choi Ryong-hae to Beijing eight days later. It proposed talks between the authorities of the two Koreas on June 6 and a high-level meeting between the US and the North on June 16 through the National Defense Commission.
“The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss various issues such as the recent military tension, conversion of the armistice regime into a peace regime and the establishment of a nuclear-free world that the US advocates,” said the spokesperson of the commission, adding, “The US can fix the date as well as the venue at its onvenience.
However, the Obama administration brushed aside the suggestion on June 17 (local time), claiming that the North must fulfill denuclearization measures before any dialogue.“The international community’s stance that North Korea has to stop its nuclear programs in a verifiable manner has not changed,” said Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki, adding, “The North will have to come up with detailed denuclearization measures if it wants to win the trust of the international community.” She also emphasized that the US would have a bilateral meeting only in the framework of six-party talks.
Until now, the South Korean government, Washington and Beijing have not recognized the status of the North as a nuclear power. At the same time, they have stressed that North Korea give up on its nuclear weapons before any talks can be held. US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping recently reconfirmed their agreement not to regard the North as a nuclear weapons country, putting mounting pressure on North Korea.
Confusion Tactics to Weaken Cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Beijing
The offer for the dialogue is considered a tactic to undermine three-way cooperation among the US, South Korea and China.“It seems even more so in that the suggestion was made just 10 days ahead of the summit between Korea and China,” said Korea University professor Yoo Ho-yeol.
The North had proposed inter-Korean talks on June 6, one day prior to the summit between Beijing and Washington, but halted negotiations abruptly and unilaterally before holding out its hand to the US instead immediately before President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the US and meeting with the President of the People’s Republic of China.
President Barack Obama, on his way to Northern Ireland to participate in the G8 conference, made a phone call to her and talked about how they could work together for the denuclearization of North Korea. The Blue House said that the two reaffirmed their stance of allowing no dialogue before the North shows its will with specific actions.
Pyeongyang Appears Not So Desperate for Talks in Reality
According to foreign affairs experts, the North’s conciliatory messages have the purpose of avoiding international restrictions and diplomatic isolation. “The diplomatic sanctions imposed by the US must be lifted right away along with all threats, intimidation and provocation,”it said the same day. A diplomatic source in Seoul ommented, “There is a possibility that China told Pyeongyang to propose the talks on condition of re-opening accounts of the Foreign Trade Bank of the DPRK.” As a matter of fact, a number of high-ranking Chinese officials, including the President, are said to have emphasized the importance of peaceful dialogue during the special envoy’s visit last month.“
'North Korea is disgruntled at China’s participation in the three-party collaboration,”said Dongkuk University professor Ko Yoo-hwan, adding, “It seems that Pyeongyang is expecting some favorable news from China after meeting its request.”North Korea mentioned the possibility of such dialogue during the special envoy Choi’s visit to China and made an offer for talks immediately after his return, which is seen as a move to get on the good side of the Chinese government. Furthermore, the North has nothing to lose even if its proposal is turned down because it can enjoy at least some propaganda effect in persuading third-world countries to stand against the international sanctions.
North Sticking to Its Status as Nuclear Power
Nevertheless, the North is overtly trying to have its status recognized as a nuclear power. “Our nuclear power status, whether the international community recognizes it or not, will be firmly maintained until all of the external nuclear threats to us go away and denuclearization on the Korean peninsula is achieved,” said the commission on June 17, claiming, “Our nuclear weapons are a self-defensive and strategic choice for denuclearization on the peninsula.” Under such circumstances, the US is likely to keep watching the development of the event for some time while responding negatively to suggestions from the North.
However, it is also possible that the US could head to the negotiating table on certain conditions as North Korea has shown some signs of a positive change in attitude. “It seems that the North is trying to trick Washington into bilateral talks by mentioning the issue of a nuclear-free world along with the names of its former leaders,” said Jang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies of Seoul National University, adding, “The possibility cannot be ruled out that the US would become positive regarding two-way dialogue in an attempt to restart six-party talks.”