North Korea last month said it wanted to send a representative to the Jan. 20 inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. But Washington has so far remained reluctant to accept the request, according to South Korean government sources.
“The North, through its United Nations mission office in New York, conveyed the message that it can send Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan as a representative to the inauguration ceremony,” said the source. The message was first delivered to The Korea Society, an U.S. nonprofit organization that promotes Korea-U.S. relations, and was later delivered to the Obama transition staff.
The Korea Society, a New York-based group which counts many members who once served as prominent diplomats, helped arrange the historic concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Pyongyang last year. “We don’t know for now whether the Obama team has made a decision to accept the request or not,” the source said. “I’ve heard negative opinions far outpaced the positive views.”
The latest request from Pyongyang, however, clearly indicates that the North is poised to take a more cooperative stance towards Washington, with a new liberal administration in charge. “Pyongyang may be trying to test the political waters in the Obama administration by watching Washington’s response,” the source said.
Other government sources in Seoul also said it is unlikely the U.S. will invite Kim, also Pyongyang’s chief negotiator for the six-party talks on denuclearizing the North, while the Obama administration has yet to clearly map out its North Korea policy. The current setback in the talks - with the North refusing to offer a clear verification protocol on its nuclear facilities - further clouds any possibility for Washington to invite Pyongyang’s envoy to the inauguration.
The Peace Foundation, a Seoul-based civic group making policy suggestions on national security and inter-Korean relations, proposed last November that Washington invite the North’s special envoy to the inauguration ceremony to cement momentum to form better North Korea-U.S. relations under the new administration.
By Yeh Young-june JoongAng Ilbo [firstname.lastname@example.org]