New York seminar shows newly refined North Korea

Posted on : 2012-03-12 14:03 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Unofficial talks hold no concrete results, but suggest possible warming of inter-Korean relations
 March 9. From the left
March 9. From the left

By Kwon Tae-ho, Washing correspondent in New York 

The Conference on Peace and Cooperation in Northeast Asia, a three-day seminar on Korean Peninsular issues organized by Syracuse University, concluded Friday in New York.

The event was concerned with building peace and security in Northeast Asia and was jointly organized by five groups, including Germany‘s Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

During the seminar, North Korea reportedly reaffirmed its intentions to observe the terms of its recent agreement with the US, which include a halting of nuclear activities in exchange for food aid.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, who attended the seminar Friday, said North Korean vice foreign minister Ri Yong-ho made a “profound statement” about Pyongyang wishing to form a peaceful and productive relationship with Washington.

Ri reportedly expressed the same sentiment at a National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) seminar on Saturday. Speaking at a press conference that day, Evans Revere, senior director of Albright Stonebridge Group, said he had gotten the sense from North Korea that the terms of the Feb. 29 agreement could be enacted. Revere also said Beijing had responded positively and showed that it was prepared to seek a new way.

The seminars were Track II meetings, meaning they were unofficial and off the diplomatic record. Nevertheless, they drew attention for the large turnout of prominent Korea experts and senior officials with experience in the six-party talks on North Korea, as well as the fact that they came after the Feb. 29 agreement between Pyongyang and Washington.

Track II meetings are intended for the frank airing of views rather than the reaching of a concrete agreement, a factor behind the organizers’ emphasis on observance of the “Chatham House Rule” of confidentiality.

At the Friday seminar, North Korea‘s representative reiterated the position that preliminary steps toward denuclearization would have to come after the improvement of relations between Pyongyang and Washington, but maintained a generally conciliatory stance, sources reported. By confirming its hopes for improved relations with the US following the arrival of the Kim Jong-un regime, North Korea had observers anticipating changes in the denuclearization discussion process.

At the same time, its approach was also taken as indicating that improved relations with Seoul are unlikely for at least as long as President Lee Myung-bak remains in office.

The one mistake was an ill-advised move to have South Korean government representation at the private seminar to head off an arrangement in which Seoul was shut out of the Pyongyang-Washington loop. A unilateral attempt to propose inter-Korean discussions made for an awkward atmosphere early on.

But observers said even this eventually could contribute to reconciliation. While North Korea’s representative avoided even privately contacting South Korean representatives on the first day of the seminar, the mood improved considerably on the second day, sources reported, with the representative posing for pictures with South Korean officials and even reportedly telling South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lim Sung-nam, “Let‘s work well going ahead.”

The seminar was a long time in coming. Initially, it was announced as a joint effort of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, but the role of midwife ended up falling on the National Association of Korean Americans and the Hanshin University Center for Peace and Public Integrity. The organizers currently plan to make this year’s event the first in a series of annual seminars.


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