[FOUNTAIN]X-rated diplomacyJapanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang in September 2002 after closed-door negotiations between Japan and North Korea made it possible.
Tanaka Hitoshi, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asia and Oceania Bureau, was then head of the Japanese delegation. His North Korean counterpart was only known as “Mr. X,” a confidential channel about whom Tokyo still remains tight-lipped.
Mr. Tanaka and Mr. X first sat face-to-face at a negotiation table in China in October 2001.
The two sides met more than 25 times in a year and only five people in all of Japan knew about the meetings.
In order to test Mr. X’s position in the North, Mr. Tanaka demanded that Pyongyang release a Japanese citizen detained there. He was released without condition.
Tokyo concluded that Mr. X was indeed closely linked to the top-level officials in Pyongyang. At the same time, Mr. Tanaka tactically gave the impression that he was also a powerful figure in Tokyo by frequently visiting the office of the prime minister. The trust between the two representatives led to a successful summit meeting between the two countries.
On December 16, 2003, a Mr. X, representing the United States, arrived in London for a last-minute three-party negotiation meeting with Libya and Britain.
That was Senior Director for Proliferation Strategy Robert Joseph, now undersecretary of state. His Libyan partner was Musa Kusa, who is rumored to have coordinated the 1998 bombing of the Pan Am flight from London to New York.
Neither Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld nor Secretary of State Colin Powell was informed of Mr. Joseph’s London meeting, which was reported by the Wall Street Journal. Three days later, Libya declared that it would give up its weapons of mass destruction.
Lately, voices urging negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been increasing in the United States, as North Korea seems ready to launch missiles. It is too early to know whether the Bush Administration, which adheres to a multilateral approach, will respond. Maybe Washington can interpret the Libyan case anew and change its attitude that a breakthrough for a new order can come from behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
The more autocratic a country is, the more effective the role of a Mr. X will be. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan had a negotiation policy when he dealt with the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify.”
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.