Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A US liaison office in Pyongyang?

A US liaison office in Pyongyang is not a far fetched idea. It is worth consideration. US special envoy Stephen Bosworth is in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea] for three days of talks. Were we to rely solely on the western press, we would not learn until today [9 December 2009], that he has spent the last two weeks in the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea], smoothing the rough and meaningless, hard line proposals towards dialogue with Pyongyang, proposed by South Korea's president Lee Myung bak. Bosworth had his work cut out for him, the more especially the John Bolton school of not trucking with North Korea, in Seoul and Washington has been trying to undermine any opening to the DPRK. [See earlier entries in Guam Diary].
Did Bosworth succeed in pushing Mr. Lee to echo US president Barack Obama's [BHO] determination to speak directly to Kim Jong il's regime? It seems so, though we can expect sniper fire and rear guard manoeuvres to derail BHO's efforts.
The old gray lady of US journalism, 'the New York Times' ran a story that makes the reader scratch his head. Bosworth, it appears, went to Pyongyang with nothing to offer North Korea, nor to reward the DPRK for bad behaviour. Read, walking out of the six party talks in Beijing, reactivating its nuclear programme, and proferring the standard threats. Well this seems an odd statement in itself: if a senior diplomat travels thousands of kilometres to a country that is technically at warwith the US, with empty hands, what then is the purpose of his trip? Of course, the 'NYT' is simply babbling the official line, which it buys without question.
The reader has to look elsewhere for information. Japan's press let the cat out of the bag. It spoke of a 'road map' to jump start stalled discussions two ways with Pyongyang. One, between Washington and Pyongyang, in order to discuss almost 60 years of outstanding matters, including the need to sign a peace treaty, ending the frozen Korean War; the other, to engage the DPRK to returning to six party talks on its nuclear programme, with a view to denuclearising the divided Korean peninsula. 'Al Jazeera English' repeated these 'leaks'; it had talked to the right wing journalist Donald Kirk, who has covered Korea for the past 30 years. For Kirk, Bosworth's presence in Pyongyang is nothing more, nothing less, than a Madison Avenue scoop and advertisement, for Kim Jong il. For Kirk, the sooner you dump Kim & co., the better. Of course, Kirk hobnobs with generals, neoconservative think tanks, right wing politicians, & the like, so his bravado and 'daring' comments are simply cheap talk, bereft of any political solution but the military operation.
South Korea's worries are easy to fanthom. Syngman Rhee did not sign the Armistice Agreement of 1953, putting a hot war in a cold locker. So, technically, the ROC cannot quality as a signatory to a peace treaty with the DPRK and China. More importantly, Mr. Lee fears that the US will make concessions behind Seoul's back, and thus, such agreements will 'demote' and dilute the ROK's special military and economic policy with the US. So little faith does Mr. Lee & co. have in repeated messages of support from BHO and from other branches of the US government.
On the other hand, Seoul's uneasiness and queasiness squarely fall on Mr. Lee's shoulders. Didn't he jettison the 'Sunshine Policy' towards the DPRK almost immediately after assuming high office in 2008? Wasn't it not he who was going to bring Kim Jong ril to his knees by drastically reducing or outright phasing out food aid, and shipments of fertilisers to North Korea? Didn't his government directly and indirectly give the green light to anti DPRK groups, especially evangelical Christians and ultra conservative force s, calling for destabilising the North Korean regime? Up and down the line, Mr. Lee's tack failed or his hand so transparent in these machinations that success was never within his grasp.
In the ROK, in spite of Mr. Lee, analysists, scholars, and thank tanks have not abandoned contact nor seeking more contact with DPRK. In fact, one came up with the genial idea of the US opening a liaison office in Pyongyang. If both Pyongyang and Washington are serious about resolving a multitude of outstanding matters going back more than a half century,it makes eminently good dollars or wons and sense, to have more than intermittent contact. It is an idea that its time has come! It will be vigorously opposed in the US.
BHO has a lot on his plate everywhere,at home and abroad, especially in Asia. War in Iraq, war in Afghanistan. He is looking to lighten the load on his shoulders, so finding a modus vivendi and opprendi, to come to a solution to the problems on a divided Korean peninsula, is for him a worthy goal.

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