A North Korean ballistic missile launch (Yonhap News)
North Korea demanded that the US take part in direct nuclear negotiations without Chinese participation, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.
In a June 24 report, the newspaper quoted former Robert Gallucci, a former US State Department special envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, and Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council, as saying Pyongyang had communicated this demand. Gallucci and Sigal, who held nuclear and missile discussions with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol in Kuala Lumpur last October, said North Korea had relayed its intent to negotiate directly with the US to the Trump administration by way of the State Department.
According to Gallucci and Sigal, the North Korean participants in the Kuala Lumpur discussions, last October, that Kim Jong-un was “nervous about the US’s approach of relying on China to resolve the issue.” The North Koreans also reportedly criticized the US for trying to use the influence of China, which accounts for 90% of North Korea’s external trade, to resolve the issue. Instead, North Korea demanded to have “direct negotiations with the US without involving China.”
Gallucci was quoted by the newspaper as saying North Korea “appeared to want to improve relations with the US to reduce its dependence on China,” adding that North Korea may still hold a similar position now.
But Gallucci and Sigal also reported that North Korea expressed reluctance to negotiate with the Barack Obama administration at the time. Voicing strong displeasure with the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach of refusing to agree to dialogue before any concrete denuclearization measures took place, North Korea signaled its intent to have dialogue with the next administration after Obama, regardless of whether Trump or Hillary Clinton was elected.
When Gallucci and Sigal demanded that North Korea not conduct any nuclear tests if it planned to hold discussions with the new administration, North Korea replied that it cannot abandon nuclear weapons because it had “no other means of guaranteeing our [regime].” Ultimately, the two sides failed to find common ground in their discussions.
Meanwhile, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported that North Korea originally demanded Washington send a former US President as a special envoy in the case of Otto Warmbier, an American student who recently died after detention in North Korea.
The newspaper quoted an anonymous North Korea source as saying North Korea had communicated a message to the US in May telling it the issue of four US detainees “could be resolved if President Trump sends a special envoy with presidential experience.”
According to the newspaper, Pyongyang conveyed its demand through its New York channel with its UN mission in May and in contacts with the US by Choe Son-hui, head of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s US affairs bureau. While it did not specify which former President, it appeared to be thinking of George W. Bush, who is a Republican like Trump, the newspaper said. Former President Bill Clinton was sent as a special envoy when North Korea released two American journalists in 2009.
But North Korea ultimately released Warmbier after Trump rejected the demand to send a former President and sent State Department Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun to North Korea instead, the newspaper reported.
By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent
Please direct questions or comments to [firstname.lastname@example.org]