North’s UN visit may signal changeNorth Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong is expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in mid-September in New York. It will be the first time Pyongyang sends a state minister on foreign affairs to U.N. assembly in 15 years. Ri, who has been in foreign office since April reportedly requested to make a speech in his debut on U.N. stage. A North Korean foreign minister attended a U.N. general assembly twice in 1992 and 1999 since the two Koreas jointly joined the world body in 1991. The surprise move naturally sent North Korean watchers and pundits wildly guessing as it would come after media speculation about a secret visit to Pyongyang by U.S. intelligence and security officials.
Satellite records showed that a U.S. military aircraft carrying Washington officials entered the North Korean airspace Aug. 16-17. How the unofficial and unconfirmed development would match up with a North Korean foreign minister’s visit to United States remains unknown, but few believe he would be just stopping for a U.N. event. There are already talks on renewed high-level dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington. Ri’s visit may pave the way for Pyongyang reengaging dialogue with Washington after breakthrough with Tokyo through agreement to reopen investigation on Japanese abductees.
In near future, we hope to see North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the U.N. podium, which is open to representatives of all member countries. All the well-known dictators like Fidel Castro of Cuba, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya also had been on the main stage of the general assembly. There is no reason why a North Korean leader cannot stand on the same place. But he should not repeat the mistakes of other militant leaders. Chavez used the podium to lambast at U.S. President George W. Bush calling him an imperialist devil for attacking the world’s poorest people that further stigmatized his image as inflammatory leader.
Instead the North Korean leader should use the world attention to elaborate on his plans to change his country and clarify international suspicions on nuclear and missile weapons program, and human rights. If he pledges opening and reform, the world eyes toward the isolated and secretive military state could significantly change. His speech could lead to dramatic breakthrough in bilateral ties with the U.S. He could be accepted as one of global state leaders capable of negotiations and dialogue in international context.
Kim, who succeeded to power since his father’s death, has been at the North Korean helm for nearly three years. He has promised to strengthen nuclear and economic power. With confidence in nuclear arms capacity, he has been seen eager on the economic front. He has newly designated 13 free economic zones and appears eager on opening. But he faces global mockery and condemnation from scarce and erratic news from the hermit nation. Pyongyang needs entirely new foreign tactics. He must draw lesson from Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s speech at last year’s assembly where he assured to cease nuclear weapon program and helped to pave the way for renewed U.S.-Iran dialogue.