By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan – Oct 20, 2011
The U.S. will resume direct talks with North Korea next week in Geneva in the hope that engaging Kim Jong Il’s regime will prevent it from taking hostile actions, including nuclear weapons tests.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that while there is no new information suggesting a change of heart by North Korea, the Obama administration has decided that engagement may prevent hostile provocations. The U.S. yesterday announced the appointment of a full-time envoy to oversee the effort to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, with Glyn Davies, ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, succeeding Stephen Bosworth.
North Korea has repeatedly broken agreements to dismantle its atomic program and tensions have risen since attacks last year that killed 50 South Koreans. The U.S. and the United Nations have increased sanctions against Kim’s government following missile and atomic tests while calling on the country to return to six-nation disarmament talks.
The Oct. 24-25 meeting in Geneva will be “exploratory in nature,” and both Davies and Bosworth will attend, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said yesterday in Washington.
“I don’t think we can expect much out of this meeting, but it could be seen as progress if they can at least set agendas for future talks,” said Dong Yong Sueng, a senior fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul. “This will just serve to help ease tensions and create a more favorable atmosphere.”
The decision to proceed after a preliminary U.S.-North Korea meeting in July was made in consultation with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who met with President Barack Obama last week in Washington, the official said. North Korea has met one precondition the U.S. laid out: to restart dialogue and cease provocations against South Korea.
At the meeting in New York three months ago, Bosworth laid out how North Korea should demonstrate its seriousness about abiding by previous commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Along with his duties as envoy, Bosworth is also dean at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.
Sanctions, crop failures and a bungled currency revaluation have hurt North Korea’s $22 billion economy, which shrank 0.9 percent in 2009, according to South Korea’s central bank. In response, the government has sought more assistance from China, North Korea’s biggest ally, and bilateral trade rose 30 percent last year to $3.5 billion.
Grooming a Successor
The country’s isolation underscores the challenges for the 69-year-old Kim as he grooms his third son, Kim Jong Un, to succeed him. The younger Kim, believed to be in his late 20’s, was made a four-star general in September 2010 and appointed to the second-highest military post within the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
North Korea abandoned six-nation nuclear disarmament talks involving the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia in April 2009. The next month it staged a second nuclear test and last year revealed a secret uranium-enrichment program.
Kim’s regime shelled a South Korean island in November, killing four people. It has denied an international report blaming North Korea for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March 2010 that claimed the lives of 46 sailors.
The peninsula has technically been in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean war ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
The U.S. had refused until July to hold any talks with North Korea in light of its hostile actions. The U.S. now wants evidence of real progress before returning to six-nation talks and the possibility of offering recognition to North Korea, the administration official said.