Pyongyang is reaching out to various D.C. figuresDespite the apparent impasse in denuclearization negotiations, North Korea has been reaching out behind the scenes through various channels to U.S. lawmakers and people involved in shaping policy toward Pyongyang, sources confirmed Thursday.
On the surface, Pyongyang appears to be remaining deaf to Washington’s calls for high-level and working-level talks. But it has been attempting to make direct contact with the U.S. Congress and key figures that deal with the North Korea issue.
“North Korea, through various methods including emails, has contacted key U.S. figures dealing with the North Korea issue, asking to meet,” a diplomatic source familiar with the situation in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday. “This is something that the U.S. figures who have been contacted by the North Korean side have directly relayed.”
“Pyongyang has made attempts to reach out to lawmakers and members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, showing how astute and thorough their movement is,” the source continued.
As Washington and Pyongyang do not have formal diplomatic relations, North Korea’s permanent mission to the United Nations, or the New York channel, is the most frequent means of communication between the two countries.
The North Korean mission is believe to have contacted lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, along with key officials in the U.S. State Department and Treasury Department.
A senator who is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has also been contacted by the North.
North Korea also reached out to a former senior official in the U.S. State Department’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau during the Barack Obama administration who might have played a key figure in forming North Korea policy if the Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had become president. He still plays a key role in advising the Democrats on foreign affairs and security policy.
The diplomatic source said, “The fact that North Korea even contacted this individual signifies that it is familiar with K Street.” K Street refers to a hub of think tanks, lobbyists and advocacy groups in Washington. “North Korea is diligently sounding out the situation with the United States under the table,” the source continued.
The former Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs official confirmed to this source that North Korea had sent an email but said he didn’t reply.
The source added that North Korea, by contacting such figures, “is trying to figure out the atmosphere in the U.S. government toward the easing of sanctions.”
There has been a deadlock in denuclearization negotiations following the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The last North-U.S. meeting took place on Oct. 4, when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang.
A high-level meeting between Pompeo and a North Korean counterpart, which was supposed to happen last month, never came about.
Likewise, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, made a four-day visit to Seoul last week from Dec. 19. He made a visit to the truce village of Panmunjom at the inter-Korean border without meeting with North Korean officials.
Biegun said during his visit that Washington was reviewing easing travel restrictions on North Korea to facilitate humanitarian aid, remarks seen as an olive branch.
Washington sources say that North-U.S. negotiations can be better described as “on hold” rather than “stalled.”
“North Korea also needs to retain momentum in negotiations and will inevitably have to use various under the table means of contact,” an analyst at a state-run research institute said.
BY CHUN SU-JIN, LEE YU-JEONG AND SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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