In TV interview, Obama alludes to dialogue with North Korea

Posted on : 2013-03-15 14:18 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
US president says that if North Korea ends provocations, Washington can respond with trust-building measures

By Park Hyun, Washington correspondent

On Mar. 13 (EST), US President Barack Obama appeared on TV and delivered a direct message to North Korea. The message expressed the forward-looking position that if North Korea takes measures to establish trust by ending nuclear testing and missile launches, the US will respond in kind.

During an interview with ABC, Obama was asked what needs to happen before dialogue with North Korea can take place. “There are a lot of things,” Obama said. “But they could start by ending nuclear testing. They could start by ending some of this missile testing. There are a whole battery of confidence-building measures that they could engage in.”

George Stephanopoulos, the interviewer, asked Obama whether the pledge he made during his 2008 presidential campaign to hold direct talks with North Korea was still valid, mentioning that Kim Jong-un had said recently that he wanted to talk on the phone with Obama. “You always want to create the conditions where, if you have a conversation, it’s actually useful,” the president responded. “The South Koreans, the Chinese, all the six-party talk players need to be involved.”

“They know what our bottom lines are. What we’ve said is we want a denuclearized peninsula. You know, we’ve got to stop with these kinds of provocative threats. And we’re prepared to work with them where they could break their isolation and rejoin the international community.” However, Obama once again confirmed the existing US negotiating principle that bad behavior would not be rewarded.

One remark by Obama that is attracting particular interest is his revelation that he is willing to join talks if North Korea does not make any further provocations, such as nuclear weapons tests or missile launches. This can be seen as indicating that the US has greatly lowered or effectively removed the preconditions for dialogue.

During Obama’s first term in office, the US made it difficult for talks to get off the ground by imposing tricky preconditions such as requiring that Pyongyang shut down its nuclear facilities or that authorities in Seoul and Pyongyang sit down at the table first, and the country at times seemed to avoid responding to the North because of “strategic patience.”

“It is as if Obama publicly confirmed the remarks made last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged for a peaceful resolution to be sought through negotiations,” said Kim Chang-soo, policy coordinator for the Korea Peace Forum. “This could serve as a framework for a new North Korea policy during Obama’s second term.”

However, a senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade suggested that Obama’s comments should not be interpreted as a change in US policy toward North Korea. “With North Korea raising the tenor of its threatening rhetoric, Obama’s comments must be viewing as being aimed at checking Pyongyang,” the official said.

Along with this, Obama said that he is putting the emphasis on cooperating with China to impose sanctions on North Korea. The Chinese, who had put up North Korean misbehavior because of concern that the regime in Pyongyang might collapse, are starting to rethink the situation, Obama said, identifying this as a “promising” factor.

Stephanopoulos just 10 days earlier interviewed former NBA player Dennis Rodman, who visited North Korea in March. During that interview, Rodman recalled that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had said he wanted Obama to phone him. Considering this background, there is some speculation that Obama took part in this interview to send a personal message to Kim. Obama acknowledged that he was aware of what Rodman said in the interview.


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