Sunday, November 14, 2010

A missed occasion to renew Pyongyang Washington dialogue

The death of Jo Myong rok a senior and high ranking North Korean officer and confidant of Kim Jong il offered an opportunity to invite former US officials to attend his funeral.
His obituary appeared in the US media. His death at the age of 82 was entitled to spoken and written coverage: in a visit, marked by its significant gesture, to the US in October 2000, North Korea's first vice president of its National Defence Commission, met with then secretary of state Madeleine Albright and afterwards he held discussions with the White House national security advisor Sandy Berger and later shook hands with president Bill Clinton at the White House.
His rare presence in Washington might have signaled a willingness to go beyond the wooden watchwords of the Korean War which in 2000 was a half century old.
In his meeting with Mme Albright, Mr. Jo gave the US reason to hope that North Korea would engage in significant steps to improve relations with the US.
It was during his trip, he extended an invitation to Mr Clinton to visit North Korea. As a result, Mme Albright flew to Pyongyang where she had talks with Kim Jong il.
Mme Albright is no push over but she came away from her discussions with Mr. Kim with the feeling that the North Korean leader was truly sincere in pursuing more open and better relations with the US.
Alas, poorly advised by America's North Korean clericy, Mr Clinton, already weakened by impeachment and the Lewinsky affair, did not go to North Korea.
On the other hand, Mr Jo chaperoned by the New York Korea Society met members of America's elite. It is pertinent to stress here that at that time South Korea's 'Sunshine Policy' had a magical effect of favouring better and improved relations with Pyongyang.
On one hand, you can say that Mr Jo offered America leaders and elite an undreamed opportunity to meet an official of Mr Jo stature. They also saw that he was not the devil incarnate.
George W Bush and South Korea's president Lee Myung bek turned a promising climate into the deepest freeze of Cold War politcs.
Had North Korea made an effort to invite former American officials to Mr Jo's funeral, there would be no certainty that say Mme Albright or former ambassador to Seoul and president of the Korea Society would attend.
But such an invitation would convey a strong message that Pyongyang is willing to seriously deal with Washington. Such a gesture would have put the Obama admistration's back to the wall. It would then have to seriously review a regressive and failed policy towards North Korea.

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