Despite Trump threats, US-North Korea talks not ‘limited at all’

  • Even though President Donald Trump has accused
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of “wasting his time” by
    trying diplomacy with North Korea, the State Deparment has
    pressed on.
  • The US and North Korea are having quiet talks despite
    Trump’s threats.
  • But the talks aren’t making great progress, and
    Tillerson said he will continue “diplomatic efforts …
    until the first bomb drops.”


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the U.S. embbady in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 22, 2017.  REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool
Rex Tillerson
Thomson
Reuters


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is quietly pursuing
direct diplomacy with North Korea, a senior State Department
official said on Tuesday, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s
public badertion that such talks are a waste of time.

Using the so-called “New York channel,” Joseph Yun, U.S.
negotiator with North Korea, has been in contact with diplomats
at Pyongyang’s United Nations mission, the official said, at a
time when an exchange of bellicose insults between Trump and
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fueled fears of military
conflict.

While U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 17 said he
would continue “diplomatic efforts … until the first bomb
drops,” the official’s comments were the clearest sign the United
States was directly discussing issues beyond the release of
American prisoners, despite Trump having dismissed direct talks
as pointless.

There is no sign, however, that the behind-the-scenes
communications have improved a relationship vexed by North
Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the death of U.S. university
student Otto Warmbier days after his release by Pyongyang in June
and the detention of three other Americans.

Word of quiet engagement with Pyongyang comes despite Trump’s
comments, North Korea’s weapons advances and suggestions by some
U.S. and South Korean officials that Yun’s interactions with
North Koreans had been reined in.

“It has not been limited at all, both (in) frequency and
substance,” said the senior State Department official.

Among the points that Yun has made to his North Korean
interlocutors is to “stop testing” nuclear bombs and missiles,
the official said.


FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS
North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a celebration for nuclear
scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test,
in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central
News Agency (KCNA)

Thomson
Reuters


North Korea this year conducted its sixth and most powerful
nuclear detonation and has test-fired a volley of missiles,
including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that, if
perfected, could in theory reach the United States mainland.

The possibility that Pyongyang may be closer to attaching a
nuclear warhead to an ICBM has alarmed the Trump administration,
which in April unveiled a policy of “maximum pressure and
engagement” that has so far failed to deter North Korea.

At the start of Trump’s presidency, Yun’s instructions were
limited to seeking the release of U.S. prisoners.

“It is (now) a broader mandate than that,” said the State
Department official, declining, however, to address whether
authority had been given to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and
missile program.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China
welcomed any dialogue between the United States and North Korea.

“We encourage North Korea and the United States to carry out
engagement and dialogue,” Hua told reporters, adding that she
hoped talks could help return the issue to a diplomatic track for
resolution.

Sanctions and engagement


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (not pictured) deliver joint statements to the media at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal
Japanese
PM Abe and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg deliver joint
statements to the media in Brussels

Thomson Reuters

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has urged all United Nations members
to fully and transparently implement sanctions against North
Korea, which he said has emerged as a global threat.

Speaking at the United Nations on Sept. 19, Trump vowed to
“totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the United States
or its allies, raising anxieties about the possibility of
military conflict.

Twelve days later, after Tillerson said Washington was probing
for a diplomatic opening, Trump said on Twitter that his chief
diplomat was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little
Rocket Man” – his mocking nickname for the North Korean leader.

Democratic U.S. senators introduced a bill on Tuesday they said
would prevent Trump from launching a nuclear first strike on
North Korea on his own, highlighting the issue days before the
Republican’s first presidential trip to Asia.

A high-ranking North Korean defector said in Washington on
Tuesday that he backed the Trump administration’s policy of
pressuring Pyongyang through sanctions, coupled with “maximum
engagement” with the leadership and increased efforts to get
information into North Korea to educate its people.

“I strongly believe in the use of soft power before taking any
military actions,” Thae Yong Ho, chief of mission at Pyongyang’s
embbady in London until he defected in 2016, told the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.

The New York channel is one of the few conduits the United States
has for communicating with North Korea, which has itself made
clear it has little interest in serious talks before it develops
a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental
United States.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (not pictured) guides the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated combination photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS
North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the launch of a Hwasong-12
missile in this undated combination photo released by North
Korea’s KCNA

Thomson
Reuters


The last high-level contact between Yun and the North Koreans was
when he traveled to North Korea in June to secure the release of
Warmbier, who died shortly after he returned home in a coma, the
State Department official said.

The Trump administration has demanded North Korea release three
other U.S. citizens: missionary Kim Dong Chul and
academics Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song. 

Warmbier’s death was a factor in the chilling of U.S.-North
Korean contacts around that time but the biggest impact came from
Pyongyang’s stepped-up testing, the official said.

The official said, however, that “the preferred endpoint is not a
war but some kind of diplomatic settlement” and suggestions that
Washington is setting up a binary choice for Pyongyang to
capitulate diplomatically or military action were “misleading.”

Diplomacy, the official said, “has a lot more room to go.”

But Trump’s threats against North Korea are believed to have
complicated diplomatic efforts.


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