20 May 2005

The Dear Leader is Back - and Talks are in the Air

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il re-appeared May 19 after weeks of absence, stepping into the warm welcome of “stormy cheers” as he arrived to enjoy a performance by the families of service members from KPA Unit 593 and KPA Unit 529.

Since his last public appearance April 27, the nuclear rhetoric rose to a fever pitch and then began to settle down amid the resumption of stalled North-South talks and the revelation of backchannel U.S.-DPRK talks through the North’s UN representatives in New York.

Now, this is all pretty standard; the tensions usually rise highest just before negotiations restart. Whether that is because each player is trying to enter the talks with a better hand, or just that the sudden escalation reminds the participants of just how far this can go if left unchecked, the negotiations seem to be restarting.

Now, look back at what I said May 10
In general, the public outcry over the direness of the situation is providing a convenient mask for the more subtle nuances of negotiations playing in the background – a diplomatic dance that, if carefully choreographed, can suddenly rend a solution from the irresolvable stubbornness of the North Korean and U.S. positions.
… Now, I don’t think this will suddenly result in a bunch of U.S. and North Korean officials running slow motion through a field of daisies to embrace each other and spin around in the warm sunshine, but there is a reality to these negotiations, and that is that they are negotiations. Neither side (or should I say none of the sides) wants to see a North Korean nuclear test – it undercuts the DPRK position and leaves the Untied States with few choices. So a negotiated solution is in the best interest of all parties, even if they can’t find any common ground yet.

There is still plenty of room for misreading the situation by any of the parties, and the Japanese currently look like they are being sidelined by Pyongyang, Beijing and Seoul, so there is a spoiler out there.

But the North, in its own odd way, called on May 18 for the resumption of talks, after the U.S. in New York reiterated that Washington recognizes the sovereignty and right of North Korea to exist.

In the KCNA report Pyongyang of course blamed the “gangster-like,” “impudent double-dealing,” “past master of plot and deception” Washington for the delay. Pyongyang then repeated that it was ready for talks, if the U.S. stops “disregarding and insulting its dialogue partner,” the basic demand that Washington not call North Korea evil and plot to overthrow the government. Not exactly a Hallmark card, but an invitation in Pyongyang’s own special language – as was he talks with Seoul and the New York talks.

And remember, when Kim’s away, he is usually wracking his brain (and maybe the brains of a few others) to plot a new or refined strategy, and that appears to be talking place.

Ah, the convolutions of North Korean diplomacy.

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