Government officials from the US and North Korea held talks from July 28 to July 29 in New York City. But these were not the only talks in which Americans and North Koreas were involved.
The National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) held a press conference to describe August 1 talks between the US and North Koreans. Professor George Schwab, President of NCAFP opened the briefing. The NCAFP had invited the North Korean delegation to New York and had hosted it at a day long meeting on Monday, August 1.
In contrast to the formal government to government meetings that took place on Thursday and Friday of the previous week, the meeting hosted by the NCAFP was what is known as a Track 2 meeting. Track 2 meetings, said Schwab, encourage the parties to explore the issues and understand each other’s views in an informal setting.
Though the North Korean participants are government officials, they participated in an unofficial capacity. Henry Kissinger, co-chairman of the NCAFP, was a participant in these talks, as he had been in all the previous NCAFP Track 2 meetings with the North Koreans, according to Schwab. Among those participating in the American side of the talks, were former government officials, officers of the Korea Society, academics with a deep knowledge of Korean affairs, and Congressional staff.
Along with Schwab, at the press conference were Professor Donald Zagoria, Senior Vice President of the NCAFP, Mark Minton and Evans Revere of the Korea Society, and Stephen Del Rosso of the Carnegie Corporation Track 2 program on North Korea.
Talking about the substance of the Track 2 meeting, Schwab listed a number of issues that often appear in talks between the US and North Korea. These included North Korea’s nuclear program and missile program, a peace agreement between US and North Korea, missing in action, family unifications, and other issues that would need to be solved to reach the ultimate goal of peace in Northeast Asia.
The focus of the talks, however, as Schwab explained, were those issues which dealt with security matters.
One of the questions from the press was why, at this time, did the US government invite the North Korean negotiators to the US. Zagoria responded that this was the critical question. He described how he had spent some time talking with Evans Revere in order to be able to answer this question.
After two years of non contact between the US and North Korea in negotiations, it was clear that non contact was dangerous, he explained. On the US side, he acknowledged that he had not been satisfied with the US policy known as “strategic patience”, which diminished chances for US-North Korean talks. The two years of no talks between the US and North Korea had resulted in North Korean missile and nuclear developments and an especially dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula in 2010. Zagoria referred to an analysis by Joel Wit of the problems that had grown up from the lack of contact. Also he noted that China had played a constructive role encouraging the talks.
Mark Minton was asked about his proposal to set up liaison offices for US-North Korean relations in Washington DC and in Pyongyang, a proposal he had made at the Jeju Peace Forum in June. He responded that this proposal had been previously proposed and so was in the negotiating record. Such liaison offices would facilitate contact. When there is a crisis he observed, it is difficult to even get in contact.
Evans Revere responded to a question about whether the US participants in the Track 2 talks felt that work toward a peace treaty between North Korea and the US could be considered a security issue. He said it was pretty hard to have discussions with North Korea without this coming up. This was one of the topics that would be worked on as part of the 6 party talks if they were to resume.
Asked why the North Korean delegation was willing to take part in the NCAFP hosted talks, Zagoria responded that the North Koreans appreciated the opportunity to talk with a broad group of scholars and former government officials. He offered the example of how a long discussion between the two sides in June 2005 helped to set the basis for the September 2005 agreement concluded during the 6-party talks.
The sentiment among the Americans at the NCAFP conference was succinctly summed up by Schwab when he said, “Not talking is not going to lead us to any good results.”
A version of this article originally appeared on the netizen blog at http://taz.de/blogs/netizenblog
By Ronda Hauben
(1) Strategic patience is an unwillingness to engage in dialogue for whatever reason.
(2) One such analysis is by Joel Wit and Jenny Town, “Stopping the Nuclear North,” Foreign Policy, July 26, 2011.