|SLUG: 5-47206 North Korea Detente||DATE:||NOTE NUMBER:|
TITLE=NORTH KOREA / DETENTE
INTRO: U-S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright leaves for Pyongyang (Sunday) for two days of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The visit the first by a U-S secretary of state - is partly to advance a possible visit to North Korea by President Bill Clinton next month. VOA's Alisha Ryu in our Asia News Center examines the possible impetus behind North Korea's willingness to engage the United States as the communist state emerges from decades of self-imposed isolation.
TEXT: On October 12th - barely four months after the historic, first-ever meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea - Pyongyang stunned the world by inviting the President of the United States to visit communist North Korea.
News of the invitation was initially carried by North Korean media. It was subsequently mentioned in a communique Washington issued jointly with North Korean special envoy Jo Myong Rok at the end of his three-day Washington visit.
During Mr. Jo's visit, North Korea also made other surprising announcements in several key areas. For example, Pyongyang long-accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism, pledged to support international efforts in fighting it.
But it remains to be seen if North Korea is willing to address the most significant concerns of the United States, South Korea and their allies namely the North's nuclear and missile development program.
After 50 years of Cold War hostilities and bitter rhetoric toward Washington and Seoul, North Korea's sudden and unprecedented shift toward moderation is leaving many policy experts confused as to what the heavily-armed but poverty-stricken North Korea really has in mind.
For its willingness to open up dialogue with South Korea, Washington has rewarded Pyongyang with a partial lifting of sanctions and promises of more trade and economic aid.
Douglas Paal at the Asia Pacific Policy Center in Washington believes Pyongyang's current push for diplomacy with the United States reflects its desire to lock down more concessions from the Clinton administration ahead of the U-S presidential elections in November.
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This is a slow-moving process that has suddenly become much faster because the North Koreans realize they are at the end of the Clinton administration. For North Korea, if they do not deal now, they lose months to a new president, no matter if it is Al Gore or George Bush next year.
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Mr. Paal notes that North Korea which still maintains a formidable million-man army along the border with South Korea - has yet to make a genuine offer about scaling back its missile development program. He thinks North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is playing a shrewd game in which he gives the appearance of moderating without conceding much on core issues.
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Nothing has been done to address the confidence building measures we need to reduce the military threat to the south. We are talking about marginal issues all the while providing the means for the North Korean regime to persist.
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Other experts are more optimistic about North Korea's overall intentions. The president of Korea Economic Institute in Washington, Joseph Winder, says it took time for the younger Kim to establish his leadership after the death of his father - Kim Il Sung - in 1994.
After a decade of economic decline and five years of near-famine, Mr. Winder believes Kim Jong Il desperately wants to overhaul the economy. As absolute ruler Mr. Kim is now in a position to open up to assistance from the West without fearing opposition from hard-liners.
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He had to consolidate his power after his father died and there was a three-year period of mourning that gave him an excuse for not doing anything with the rest of the world. That process seems to have been completed. The economic pressures are now forcing the North Korean regime to adopt a new approach and the only other alternative to total dependency on Russia and China which is no longer an option is to link its economy with the outside world.
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Both experts agree that how Pyongyang addresses missile concerns in future talks with Washington will be the best measure of its sincerity in moving beyond current confidence-boosting steps. Until substantial progress is made on arms talks, they say deep suspicions will remain about North Korea's ultimate intentions. (Signed)