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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 268 (June 27, 2013)

All Headlines 10:41 June 27, 2013

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Deploys Two-track Diplomacy of Dialogue and Threats

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- While North Korea has appeared to shift to dialogue recently, it is still deploying a two-pronged diplomatic offensive for moderate negotiations coupled with a tough stance on its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea's top nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan recently reaffirmed the North is willing to participate in any forms of dialogue with related countries, but its top envoy to the United Nations remained tough in the country's stance toward South Korea and the United States over the dismantlement of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

In New York on June 21, North Korean Ambassador Sin Son-ho reaffirmed Pyongyang's offer of senior-level talks with Washington to defuse tension, discuss a peace mechanism to replace the 1953 armistice and resolve the nuclear weapons issue. But he reiterated Pyongyang's war threats coupled with a typical dialogue offer.

Sin's news conference came shortly after Kim Kye-gwan, a North Korean vice foreign minister in charge of nuclear bargaining, reiterated the regime's willingness to engage in "various dialogues, including the six-party talks," at a meeting in Beijing with Yang Jiechi, a Chinese State Councilor in charge of foreign affairs.

Kim stressed that realizing a nuclear-free peninsula was a dying wish of the socialist nation's late leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, according to a news report.

"The DPRK (North Korea) hopes the situation on the peninsula can be eased, Kim said, noting that the country maintains dialogues in settling the nuclear issue and welcomes any forms of talks, including the six-party talks," Kim was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua news agency.

Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea's vice foreign minister and chief nuclear envoy, held a "strategic dialogue" with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui on June 19 in Beijing. He reasserted that Pyongyang wants to resolve its nuclear issue through dialogue.

China said North Korea has expressed its willingness to rejoin the long-stalled nuclear talks, but the United States, Japan and South Korea called for action instead of words.

China, which has faced U.S. pressure to rein in North Korea, quoted the regime's veteran negotiator Kim as saying Pyongyang was willing to engage in any form of dialogue to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully.

It was the second such statement by North Korea. Choe Ryong-hae, a close confidant of the North's leader Kim Jong-un, made similar comments in May during a visit to Beijing in which he met President Xi Jinping. Choe, the director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army, expressed the regime's willingness to engage in dialogue.

Kim Kye-kwan returned home on June 22 after a four-day trip to Beijing, which included meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui. Kim is also believed to be planning to travel soon to Russia, the other six-party forum member.

Ambassador Sin said North Korea is ready for any nuclear talks, but it will not abandon nuclear weapons as long as the U.S. nuclear threats go on.

The ambassador said another military conflict is possible at any time as long as U.S. hostilities continue. Pyongyang often takes issue with what it calls U.S. hostile policy, apparently referring to economic sanctions and American troops stationed in South Korea.

He stressed the need to replace the Korean War Armistice with a lasting peace mechanism, adding Pyongyang is seeking mutual disarmament talks, not unilateral denuclearization of the communist nation. The two Koreas remain technically at war because their 1950-53 war ended in a ceasefire, not a formal peace treaty.

But the newest overture by Sin was mixed with calls for a lifting of economic sanctions and dismantling of the U.N. Command in the South, which is led by the U.S. that also provides a nuclear umbrella.

Seoul and Washington, however, again dismissed Sin's remarks as an old tactic that is used chiefly to entice international attention but has little substance.

A government official in Seoul said the rare press conference did not show Pyongyang's sincere attitude toward dialogue. It appeared to be a "face-saving attempt" targeting a South Korea-China summit scheduled for June 27, where North Korea's denuclearization will likely top the agenda, the official said.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said Sin's claims have been repeated by the regime for years. "The U.N. command is something that's been there for many years and will continue to be. … And our sanctions will continue," he told a daily briefing.

As to the aborted inter-Korean talks, Sin said that high-level talks with South Korea can be resumed only when Seoul drops its preconditions for the rank of Pyongyang's top delegate.

"We have intent on responding to any dialogue whether on a bilateral or multilateral level," Amb. Sin told Yonhap News Agency after the rare news conference in New York.

He said the ball is on the South Korean side, saying inter-Korean dialogue is not possible unless the South retracts its preconditions.

The two Koreas recently came close to their first high-level talks in six years. But the talks were canceled because of a row over the rank of the delegates that were to attend from each side.

The South originally wanted the North to be represented by Kim Yang-gon, the head of the United Front Department and Workers' Party of Korea secretary. He is known to be one of the most influential North Korean officials on inter-Korean affairs.

But the North actually appointed an official whose rank is believed to be a step or two lower than that of South Korea's ministerial official.

As the inter-Korean dialogue fell through at the last minute, North Korea abruptly proposed dialogue with the United States on June 16 through a spokesman statement by the National Defense Commission (NDC), the top decision-making body chaired by leader Kim Jong-un.

It asked for talks with senior U.S. officials so they could discuss various matters, from easing military tensions to changing the Armistice Agreement into a peace treaty to building "a world without nuclear arms."

Despite the persistent standoff, brisk diplomacy among the key partners is boosting the prospect for a resumption of the six-nation forum, which was launched in 2003 with the goal of denuclearizing the North but has been dormant since late 2008.

Sources in Seoul said that members of the six-party talks, who halted all formal meetings following the North's failed attempt to launch a long-range rocket in April 2012, are moving forward to lay the foundation for possible negotiations down the line.

The predictions come after the North, having made near-daily war threats against South Korea and the United States, earlier in the year have changed course and offered to hold talks that can touch on its nuclear program.

In May, Pyongyang sent a special envoy to Beijing to discuss outstanding issues and held talks with a representative from Japan.

In March, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2094 to punish Pyongyang for its underground nuclear test on Feb. 12, calling for the international community to toughen sanctions on the socialist country and blacklisted 19 North-based firms and 12 figures.

Under the resolution, U.N. member states are required to put tighter restrictions on North Korea's financial activities and conduct thorough inspections of air and sea cargo headed to the country.

In protest of the fresh international sanctions and the annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises, Pyongyang ratcheted up tensions with near-daily war threats and by withdrawing all of its workers from the inter-Korean industrial park in its border city of Kaesong in May.

The last high-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang took place in Beijing in February 2012 when North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan and Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, met to reach the so-called Leap Day deal.

Last week, South Korea, the United States and Japan held separate talks that outlined their demands toward North Korea on the denuclearization issue.

The allies have called on the Kim Jong-un regime to prove its sincerity with pre-emptive steps toward denuclearization before returning to the negotiating table.

Cho Tae-yong, Seoul's special representative for the Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs and top nuclear negotiator, raised the need for "stronger obligations" on the North, before any restart of talks, than those stipulated in its broken agreement with the U.S. on Feb. 29, 2012.

Under the so-called Leap Day Deal, Pyongyang agreed to put a moratorium on its nuclear enrichment program, stop atomic and missile tests, and allow IAEA inspections in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid.

South Korea's Cho Tae-yong laid out the preconditions after meeting in Washington with Glyn Davies, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, and Shinsuke Sugiyama, the Japanese Foreign Ministry's director-general of Asian and Oceanian affairs.

On the way back, Cho visited Beijing for two days from June 20 to hold talks with Wu Dawei, China's special representative for affairs on the Korean Peninsula. They discussed issues, including how to resume the six-party talks, and confirmed that they would not acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.

"All that remains to be seen is to determine how the Chinese approach this matter that can affect the flow of any six-party talks that may follow," an official who wanted to remain anonymous said. In the past, China has been more lenient toward the North at the talks.

Experts on foreign affairs have claimed for some time that because China effectively is the North's only ally and controls a large percentage of energy and food going into the country, it can exercise considerable clout if it chooses to do so.

North Korea watchers were in general agreement that if the North does not carry out fresh provocations, there is a chance that a new round of six-party talks will take place, although South Korea and the United States may be more demanding in asking for change on the part of the North.

They said the first test of the six-party talks making headway will be determined at the ASEAN Regional Forum that will be held on July 2. This is because Asia's top security forum will be the gathering of foreign ministers from all six-party countries that can set the stage for dialogue.

Reflecting this, a senior government source conceded that there are signs that the six-party forum may resume since all sides are open to holding talks. He warned, however, that even if talks do take place, there is a need for parties to engage in setting a clear agenda and goals ahead of any meeting to ensure that meaningful progress takes place.

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