In the context of increased tension on the Korean Peninsula, representatives of the USA and DPRK decided to hold a closed bilateral meeting in Malaysia. The non-official negotiations took place in one of the hotels in Kuala Lumpur on October 21-22.
The DPRK was represented by five North-Korean delegates, including the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Han Song-ryol and the DPRK’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Jang Il-hun. The USA was represented by four experts of affairs on the Korean Peninsula, including Robert Gallucci, the former head of the US delegation at the negotiations with North Korea, Leon Sigal, the Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project under the Social Research Centre, and Joseph DeTrani, the former US special envoy to the six-party talks.
Each of the American delegates has played an important role over the years in the attempts made to establish dialogue between the USA and DPRK. For example, Robert Gallucci played a key role in signing the Framework Agreement between Pyongyang and Washington in 1994, which ended the first stage of the nuclear crisis. Joseph DeTrani participated in the six-party talks in 2005, when North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for energy assistance.
It is curious that the closest ally of Washington – Seoul – was unaware of the meeting. The information that KBS broadcasting company received was likely to have come from journalistic activity.
No agreements were reached during the meeting: in such cases, the phrase that used is “the parties exchanged views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including North Korea’s nuclear program.” In addition, Seoul and Washington announced that the American participants of the meeting were not official representatives of the US government.
A little more was said off-the-record. Han Song-ryol told to KBS journalists that he considered this meeting an opportunity to meet old friends. Joseph DiTrani in his turn noted that it was difficult to say anything specific about the content of the talks as the dialogue had just started. In an interview to Yonhap News Agency, Leon Sigal announced that “the North-Korean nuclear problem was not French wine” and doesn’t get better over time.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Asahi Shimbun commented on the outcomes of the meeting and noted that the North is trying to understand the possible changes to US policy which are to be expected after the government change. Apparently, the North may propose the new US leadership an agreement on nuclear disarmament, withdrawal of American forces from the Korean Peninsula, and signing a peace treaty in exchange for the termination of its nuclear program.
We will write a separate article covering the discussion of the situation among the American experts as the range of opinions on the matter is quite broad. However, the Council on Foreign Relations organised and held a seminar in New York on October 25. James Clapper, the Director of the US National Intelligence, not just any ordinary expert, announced that containment of the Pyongyang nuclear potential was a priority task at the moment. This statement is the admission of a very important fact, which may change the US approach to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula under the next President. According to Clapper, the DPRK considers nuclear weapons to be the key to survival. This means that they can not abandon them. Therefore, we should assume that North Korea will never consent to denuclearization
This fact contradicts Washington’s current position. It believes that the DPRK leadership may abandon nuclear weapons under pressure of various factors. It was no coincidence that, immediately after Clapper’s statement, the US Department of State reported that Washington continues to aim for the complete denuclearization of the North. The White House expressed the same opinion. At the previous briefing, its spokesperson Joshua Earnest announced that James Clapper just meant that it would be impossible to make Pyongyang abandon the nuclear program prior to the resignation of Barack Obama. Earnest also stated that the USA would continue cooperating with the global community in putting pressure on Pyongyang in order to force the North Korean leadership to embark on denuclearization in the long-term.
The Republic of Korea’s government also commented on Clapper’s statement: Seoul and Washington, as well as the entire global community, maintain the position that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is unacceptable and its nuclear power should not be recognised. The Republic of Korea will continue cooperating with the global community in strengthening pressure on North Korea until it has no choice except to begin denuclearization
However, the South Korean media cautiously state that although Clapper is not a spokesman of the American government, his idea may spread and this fact may affect Washington’s official position. In fact, it is actually a matter of the direction of such changes. Discussion regarding this issue is very active and we will cover the position of the major parties’ representatives in our forthcoming articles.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.