June 17, 2013

U.S. Plays Down N. Korea's Offer as Nothing New

WASHINGTON, June 17 (Yonhap) -- The United States sees no difference between North Korea's latest offer of bilateral talks and its previous ones because a serious intent is apparently lacking about denuclearization, the State Department said Monday.

It emphasized that the international community has been very consistent and clear that Pyongyang should verifiably end its nuclear program and engage in "authentic and credible negotiations that produce concrete denuclearizataion actions."

"So is it different than that? No," department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said at a press briefing. "We haven't seen evidence of that."Psaki said Washington is still waiting for clear signs that Pyongyang has changed its course. The Barack Obama administration consistently has said it is willing to talk with the communist nation. Last year, the U.S. held high-level negotiations with North Korea, which yielded the so-called Leap Day deal. The North agreed to suspend uranium enrichment at a Yongbyon plant and impose a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for the shipment of 240,000 tons of food.

Less than two months later, however, the North fired a long-range rocket, claiming the purpose was to put a satellite into orbit. The launch violated U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit the nation from any launch using ballistic missile technology. Psaki said Washington remains open to bilateral talks with Pyongyang only in the context of the six-way nuclear negotiations involving South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Her remarks were understood to assure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. will deal with North Korea in close coordination with its allies. Many say Pyongyang is not interested in the six-way format any longer, focusing instead on getting recognized as a nuclear state and winning concessions from Washington. Cho Tae-yong, South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, is scheduled to visit Washington later this week.

On Wednesday he plans to hold a trilateral meeting with his American and Japanese counterparts -- Glyn Davies and Shinsuke Sugiyama. U.S. experts here pointed out both the U.S. and North Korea have limited options politically. "Reaching out to the United States will probably go nowhere because the U.S. is not politically situated to entertain any negotiations with North Korea that do not lead off with a discussion of the nuclear program - something Pyongyang is not willing to even consider unless denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula is discussed, something the United States will not consider," said Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at CNA, a defense-related research organization in Alexandria, Virginia.

Regarding Pyongyang's recent diplomatic outreach campaign, he said it seems to seek to "assess the damage done over the last few months of crisis and see whether there are any openings." Many agree that North Korea's provocative acts, especially a nuclear test, have damaged its traditional alliance with China, which is under the new leaderhip of President Xi Jinping.

China is a long-time patron of North Korea. "It has no options that are appealing to Seoul or Washington. Therefore, there are few good options left for Pyongyang," he said. Patrick M. Cronin, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said a key problem is that North Korea is not serious about dialogue. "Instead the regime is running through a tired old play book of building nuclear weapons, committing provocations and then feigning a passing interest in talks, the terms of which guarantee they will be snorted at before starting," he said.