Reckless diplomacy doesn’t work

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Reckless diplomacy doesn’t work

“What would the other party think if you made a critical proposal and publicized it the next day?” said a Washington insider about North Korea’s “critical proposal.” On Jan. 10, the Korean Central News Agency, the North’s state-run news outlet, reported that Pyongyang had proposed to suspend nuclear tests if the United States called off its annual joint military drills. The news agency claimed the proposal was conveyed to the U.S. government on Jan. 9. The insider said it made sense to wait for Washington’s response if Pyongyang made the offer because it really wanted to talk. However, making the proposal public only a day after could make the other party think it has an ulterior motive.

And that’s how the U.S. Department of State responded. Washington rejected the proposal as a veiled threat. The North basically said that it would conduct a nuclear test if the United States and Korea don’t suspend their military exercises.

On Feb. 1, North Korea again disclosed its behind-the-scene negotiations with the United States. Pyongyang argued that Sung Kim, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, expressed his intentions to contact the North during his Asia tour and that he was invited to Pyongyang but did not come.

During the Lee Myung-bak administration, North Korea put Seoul in an awkward position by unilaterally disclosing under-the-table inter-Korean contact. In June 2011, the North claimed that it secretly contacted Seoul and “begged” to apologize for the sinking of the Cheonan and the Yeonpyeong Island attack.

Its motive for disclosing such contact was to argue that Seoul and Washington have no intentions of talking. But the Park Geun-hye administration has already sent messages to begin discussions. And that’s how the United States sees the situation. The Congressional Research Service’s report published on Jan. 21 states that the Park administration has maintained a hard-line attitude toward North Korea, but that improving relations with Pyongyang is Park’s ultimate goal within her term.

"I remain confident that the Obama administration is prepared to engage in genuine negotiations with North Korea, just as it has done with Myanmar, Iran, and Cuba, if Pyongyang is also prepared to engage in genuine negotiations," said David Straub, associate director of the Korea Program in Standford University.

A related source said that Sung Kim has sought ways to talk with North Korea upon returning to Washington last year, but that the cyberattack on Sony Pictures aggravated the atmosphere.

By revealing the progress with Washington, North Korea is not showing its sincerity. Instead, it is fanning skepticism and suspicion that Pyongyang is using it as a justification for more hard-line responses toward the United States and South Korea. We all know that North Korean foreign policy is not based on common sense, but that doesn’t mean reckless diplomacy works.

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 3, Page 31

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