Friday, December 4, 2009
US, NK Have Different Priorities
By Sunny Lee
Korea Times Correspondent
BEIJING — The rare bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang next week will see some tough bargaining as the two parties have different priorities, said a prominent U.S. expert on North Korea.
"I think there is good reason for both sides to have modest expectations," Scott Snyder, director of the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, a Washington-based policy think tank, told The Korea Times.
Snyder visited Pyongyang from Nov. 21 to 24 to discuss the current tensions surrounding the North's nuclear drive with some of the country's ranking officials, including Ri Gun, director general of the North American affairs bureau of the foreign ministry.
Snyder denied speculation that his visit was to pave the way for the expected visit by Stephen Bosworth, U.S. President Barack Obama's point man on North Korea.
"My feeling is that the U.S. focus and North Korea's focus are different," he said.
The U.S. is mainly interested in progress on the denuclearization front, while North Korea is focused on the armistice and the possibility of transforming it into a permanent peace treaty, he said.
"They are two different issues so both sides have to figure out if they can accommodate the other to move the negotiation process forward," Snyder said.
The U.S. is reportedly pushing for a meeting with Kang Suk-ju, a confidant of North Korea's paramount leader Kim Jong-il. Kang holds the post of first vice foreign minister. Pyongyang's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Gye-gwan reports to Kang.
Snyder said he was not certain whether Bosworth would be able to meet Kang.
To break the deadlock, Snyder said the two parties should go back to the spirit of the agreement they made in the Sept. 19 joint statement in 2005 during the six-nation talks and use it as the basis for the talks. "That was a very balanced approach because it talked comprehensively about denuclearization, normalization of diplomatic relations and a peace treaty."
The pact was followed by another more specific action plan they reached on Feb. 13, 2007, which called for an "action for action" implementation or the principle of simultaneous action from both sides. The two nations, often mistrustful, saw such parallel and concurrent moves to be fair.
The immediate short-term U.S. goal for the bilateral talks is to use them as a prelude to the six-party talks. But without changes from both sides in their approach to the nuclear chess game, Snyder is less than optimistic. "I don't know whether that will be easily achieved," he said.