Bosworth in Pyongyang: Mission Impossible?


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
Bosworth in Pyongyang: Mission Impossible?
By Jaime FlorCruz, Beijing Bureau Chief
December 9, 2009 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)

U.S. envoy headed for North Korea

Beijing, China (CNN) -- The top U.S. envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has arrived in Pyongyang for meetings aimed at determining whether North Korea will return to six-party talks on its nuclear program.

The veteran diplomat is the first senior official from the Obama administration to hold direct talks with Pyongyang.

"The visit gives North Korea a lot of 'face,' a sense of importance," said Wenran Jiang, political science professor at the University of Alberta. Bosworth will meet senior North Korean officials during his three-day visit.

North Korea abandoned the six-party talks last April, declaring them "dead", in anger over international criticism of its nuclear and missile tests. But the North also sent out signals that it wanted to pursue bilateral talks with the U.S. instead of a multilateral dialogue.

Meanwhile, the North has also cooled its tough rhetoric against the U.S.

Many are wondering what's behind the North's latest moves.

Some analysts say North Korea may just be trying to buy time. Earlier reports in Seoul claimed that North Korea is in the final stages of restoring its Yongbyon nuclear plant, which Pyongyang had begun to disable before walking away from the six-party talks in April. Given the secrecy of the North, those reports could not be verified.

Analysts say North Korea is also desperate to break out of its diplomatic isolation and ease its economic pain, especially after the U.N. Security Council imposed tougher sanctions on the communist country in response to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests earlier this year.

Another reason for Pyongyang's moves, analysts say, is the North's neighbor China.

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pyongyang in October, China pledged much-needed economic, trade and military aid to its communist ally. During the three-day visit, President Kim Jong Il indicated that North Korea was willing to return to the stalled six-party talks -- on condition that there would be progress in direct talks between North Korea and the United States.

China has hosted several rounds of the six-party talks, which bring together the U.S., North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. The talks aim to negotiate a deal for North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.

In the end, Pyongyang wants direct talks with Washington that will eventually lead to diplomatic ties, a peace treaty and economic and trade relations. "China can only act as a go-between but in the end, the U.S. and North Korea will have to resolve critical issues between themselves," says Wenran Jiang of the University of Alberta.

A U.S. State Department official said that Bosworth would not be carrying any new proposals or new initiatives on his visit.

"Our goal here is, of course, the resumption of the six-party talks and to secure North Korea's reaffirmation of the September 2005 joint agreement," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said a few days before Bosworth's trip.

He added: "The complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula ... will be the focus of Ambassador Bosworth's trip to Pyongyang."

Some observers point to a wide difference in the U.S. and North Korea's negotiating positions. Selig Harrison, an expert on North Korea who has visited the North many times said, "the U.S. side always says we don't want to buy the same horse twice. Defense Secretary Gates actually said that several months ago, meaning that we keep giving North Korea things to get results which we don't get and we feel that we've been cheated and we're making the same deal over and over again. But actually the North Koreans feel that they're the ones who don't get what we have promised."

Bridging their differences, observers say, will not be easy. "If Bosworth can persuade the North Koreans to return to the six-party talks, all the better," says Peking University professor Zha Daojiong.

"On the other hand, it will be understandable if he does not. In terms of negotiations, just about all the cards have been put on the table." Zha adds that "it is critically important to be patient with both North Korea and the United States."

Some see the potential for progress. Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea at Seoul's Dongguk University, says there may be options when it comes to North Korea's nuclear weapons.

"It's not that clear cut," he explains. "The Korean War ended with an armistice. Technically the war is not yet over. The North wants nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the U.S. So, if the U.S., offers a security guarantee, pledges that it wouldn't try a 'regime change' and sign a peace treaty with North Korea, the goal of denuclearization is still possible."

Bosworth's visit comes after meeting with U.S. allies. He stopped in Seoul on Monday to brief South Korean officials on his trip to the North.

Bonnie Glaser, a North Korea analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, noted that even the North's renewed indication that it may return to the stalled six-party talks is not enough and there still is a long way to go to accomplish the denuclearization goal.

After his visit to the North, Bosworth is expected to consult with the other six-party countries before returning to Washington.

Bosworth in Pyongyang: Mission Impossible? -


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
For North Korea, giving up atomic weapons is a risk

Jonathan Thatcher SEOUL
Tue Dec 8, 2009 11:55pm EST

SEOUL (Reuters) - In wintry Pyongyang this week, the challenge for President Barack Obama's first envoy to North Korea is how to convince its obsessively secretive leader that he would be mad not to talk with the outside world about disarming.

World | North Korea

From leader Kim Jong-il's point of view, the insanity might be to give up his nuclear weapons.

Kim's bid to become a nuclear warrior not only underpins the legitimacy of his 15-year iron grip over the world's first communist dynasty, it also forces world powers to treat his backwater state with respect.

Since succeeding his father in 1994, Kim has put his million-strong military at the top of society and made the building of an atomic bomb a patriotic masterstroke that keeps at bay a United States portrayed as just itching to invade.

His propaganda machine also squarely places the blame on a hostile outside world for the economic shambles the North has descended into under Kim's rule.

"North has absolutely no interest in normalizing relations with the United States. As soon as the North does that, it loses all reason to exist," said B.R. Myers, an expert on the North's ideology at Dongseo University.

"As soon as people think it is possible to get along with America, they will ask themselves why they need a 'military first' policy."

Obama has waited almost a year since taking office to send an envoy to the North, a visit that follows an array of not-quite-official meetings between the two sides, most notably a trip to Pyongyang in August by former President Bill Clinton to arrange the release of two jailed U.S. journalists.

Few, including the U.S. government, expect a breakthrough and it was unclear if part-time envoy Stephen Bosworth would even be able to meet anyone more senior than the North's top official to the six-party talks that Pyongyang walked away from a year ago.


Washington has made clear it has no new incentives to offer Kim and will not countenance a return to the years of on-off nuclear negotiations, which have allowed him to wring a series of financial rewards for agreements on which he later reneged.

A 2005 agreement, under which the North starts on the road to disarmament and receives substantial aid and security guarantees in return, is in place. It is that which Washington is urging Pyongyang to implement, as well as to resurrect talks with it, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Some analysts believe Kim's key objectives are for Washington to accept his country as a nuclear weapons power -- which Obama has refused to do -- and sign a peace treaty to finally end the 1950-53 Korean War, whose most visible sign in one of the world's most heavily defended borders that has divided the peninsula ever since.

For many analysts the underlying principle for the man dubbed at home the "Dear Leader" is simply to keep his unquestioned grip on power and ensure one of his sons continues the Kim dynastic rule over what has become one of the world's poorest societies.

The latest sign of that was an abrupt, and potentially high-risk, revaluation of the currency that overnight reduced the value of all local currency savings by 1/100th.

"I've never seen the place look so poor," said one regular visitor to the North who had just returned from his latest trip.

He argued the currency change were aimed at taking away the relative wealth of those who had prospered in the mushrooming markets outside state control.

"People would see traders getting wealthy and would want to be like them. That poses a threat to the government," he said.

The new measure itself is also laden with risk for Kim, who basks in state-managed idolatry and whom human rights groups say routinely dispatches to prison, or worse, those who commit even minor offences that might be interpreted as a challenge to his government's authority.

There have been widespread, but unconfirmed, reports of outrage over the government's currency revaluation.

South Korea's biggest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, quoted unnamed sources as saying North Korean women trading in the private markets were emerging as a formidable force against the move.

"The women are tough and defiant. And now they are angry. Markets are turning into places of protest against (Kim)," it quoted one source as saying.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alex Richardson)

For North Korea, giving up atomic weapons is a risk | Reuters


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
Korea Dec 12, 2009

Diplomatic deja vu in Pyongyang
By Donald Kirk

SEOUL - Whatever happened to the two agreements reached at six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program in 2007, at which North Korea agreed on quite specific steps for disabling and then dismantling its entire nuclear program?

For the benefit of those who seem to have forgotten, notably the United States envoy on Korea, Stephen Bosworth, and his North Korean interlocutors, those hard-wrought deals promised North Korea just about all Dear Leader Kim Jong-il wanted by way of aid, energy, oil, you name it. If only ...

... If only North Korea would make good on its promises not only to shut down all his nuclear facilities but also tear them apart, destroy them, so North Korea would have to start all over again if it ever had any notion of recovering its ranking as the world's ninth nuclear power.

The second agreement, in October 2007, had editors, producers and journalists who should have known better reporting that the North had conclusively agreed to give up its nukes. It's a sign of the shambles of those deals that they were forgotten during Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang this week.

When Bosworth got to Seoul on Thursday afternoon, after 48 hours in Pyongyang, he neglected to breathe a word about them.

Instead, Bosworth harked back to the piece of paper signed on September 19, 2005, at six-party talks in Beijing, at which the parties signed off on a vaguely stated wish list. The "joint statement", as it was called, was larded with words like "the goal" of North Korea's giving up its nukes "at an early date", and the commitment of all to the United Nations charter. It also committed North Korea to giving up its nuclear program in return for such enticements as a "peace regime", not to mention massive, unspecified quantities of aid.

Have the US and North Korea agreed to tear up, to renounce, the agreements of 2007, reached after North Korea had conducted its first underground nuclear explosion in October 2006? Or are they supposed to embark on another endless round of negotiations to get back to where they were at the end of 2007?

Bosworth's remarks were all too brief to get around to considering these questions. In fact, judging from North Korea's response on Friday, they may be taboo, not to be raised again, while the North leads the US ever more bilateral talks.

Remarkably, North Korea's ever-anonymous foreign ministry spokesman, as quoted by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency, adopted much the same language as Bosworth. Both sides, said the North's spokesman, "had a long, exhaustive and candid discussion on wide-ranging issues" concluding in "common understanding on the need to resume the six-party talks". Like Bosworth, the spokesman cited "the importance" of the 2005 joint statement.

In fact, Bosworth's remarks were so similar to those of the North Korean spokesman as to suggest that they had both agreed on what they would say - and might as well have signed off on their own bilateral statement. Or so it seemed as Bosworth talked of "common understanding" and "the essential importance" of the statement of September 2005 and characterized his conversations with North Korea's First Vice Minister Kang Sok-ju and next vice minister Kim Gye-hwan as "candid" - the same adjective used the next day by the North Korean spokesman.

There were, however, clear differences in emphasis. While Bosworth "conveyed President [Barack] Obama's view" of the need for "complete denuclearization" and saw delays in returning to six-party talks as "an obstacle to progress", the North preferred to dwell on the need for a peace treaty in place of the Korean War armistice and opening of diplomatic relations with Washington.

Bosworth did not deny touching on those aims as "elements" of the 2005 joint statement, but the sense was that North Korea will press the US for a commitment to a peace treaty and diplomatic relations before returning to the table. That problem alone suggests how hard it will be to pick up the pieces of the process.

The sharpest indication of the frustration in getting North Korea to return to the table was Bosworth's one-word response when asked if he and the North Korean negotiators had agreed on more talks or set a date. "No," Bosworth responded, ending his brief appearance at the foreign ministry in Seoul after conveying the results of his talks in Pyongyang to South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Wi Sung-lac.

The difficulties of Bosworth's long-awaited first mission to Pyongyang came as neither a surprise nor a disappointment to South Korean officials. He had assured them beforehand that he would stick to the topic of six-party talks - and not digress to a peace treaty or US-North Korean diplomatic relations other than in the context of the 2005 joint statement.

The fact that Bosworth stopped off here before flying straight to Pyongyang on Tuesday on a US Air Force plane, and then flew back here on the same plane after his talks were done, symbolized US concern about South Korean sensitivities.

The route ordinarily would have been to transit in Beijing, the normal way station in and out of Pyongyang, but Bosworth instead flew to Beijing after briefing the South Koreans. He will have also briefed the Japanese and Russians, the other parties in the six-party talks, before returning to Washington.

Overall, however, the attempt at bringing North Korea back to negotiations leaves analysts here deeply divided on whether bilateral dialogue between the US and the North is worth the effort.
"You may need a second or a third round of talks," Lim Dong-won, architect of the "Sunshine" policy of reconciliation with North Korea during the presidency of the the late Kim Dae-jung, told Asia Times Online during a seminar on unification. "You cannot solve anything in the first round." Lim, who accompanied the late president to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong-il for the first inter-Korean summit, still expects US and North Korean negotiators to be able to discuss "the modality" of six-part talks "as well as the agenda" but not "in the first attempt".

Park Yong-ok, former arms control officer for South Korea's defense ministry, offered quite a different view. "No matter how many agreements they [the North Koreans] sign, they will be useless," he remarked. "We have to make sure they change their ways." Citing the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea in October 2006 and again last May, he stated flatly, "Any agreement made by North Korea holds no significance."

Larry Niksch, senior analyst with the Congressional Research Service, predicted the US "will call it a success if they get a commitment for six-party talks" but doubted if North Korea under any circumstances would give up its nuclear program despite economic difficulties exacerbated by UN sanctions. "What worries me most is if in the next two or three years they develop a nuclear warhead for their missiles or an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach US territory," he said.

Those two issues get to the heart of the debate among analysts about the significance of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs to date. US negotiators "will have to develop a different nuclear strategy," said Niksch, if the North's nuclear and missile programs reach the point at which they pose a direct threat to the US. At that stage, he warned, "We will have to go back to the drawing board."

So far North Korea is not believed capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a target. North Korea's long-range Taepdong-2 missile landed in the western Pacific when test-fired last April - far short of Hawaii or Alaska, though it's believed an advanced Taepodong-2 could eventually go that far.

Such worries, though, did not seem to have permeated Bosworth's meetings in Pyongyang. Instead, the State Department was awaiting the call from Pyongyang, or the North's UN mission, on "the next step" - whether assent to six-party talks or another bilateral meeting - though where the yakking would go, and why, or whether it mattered, was not clear.

Donald Kirk, a long-time journalist in Asia, is author of the newly published Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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