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2008/11/13 11:03 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 29 (November 13, 2008)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK

North Korea Ready to Deal with Any U.S. Gov't: N.K. Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Just two days after the U.S. presidential election, key officials from North Korea and the United States got together in New York to discuss bilateral issues, including the resumption of stalled multilateral nuclear talks.

   Leading the North Korean delegation was Ri Gun, director general of the American affairs bureau of Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry. Ri met with Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization, on Nov. 6 at the offices of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) in Manhattan.

   Emerging from the meeting, Ri said that North Korea is ready to deal with any U.S. administration, regardless of whether it takes a hardline approach or seeks engagement, when asked by reporters about Pyongyang's position on Barack Obama's election victory.

   "We are ready to respond to any U.S. administration whatever its North Korea policy may be," Ri said. Ri, a former deputy chief of the North Korean mission to the United Nations, added: "We've handled many U.S. administrations, some seeking dialogue with us and others trying to isolate and oppress us."

   Kim told reporters that he and Ri had discussed the verification of North Korea's nuclear facilities and the provision of promised energy aid.

   Ri Gun met with Chief U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill shortly afterward. The two held "substantive, serious" talks, according to U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

   "They discussed the verification protocol, you know, energy assistance, and disablement of the North's nuclear facilities," Wood said, referring to the verification of the North's June nuclear declaration -- a major diplomatic stumbling block up until a month ago. He added the U.S. is waiting for China to announce a date for the resumption of the six-party talks.

   Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Ri, Hill said he expected a fresh round of six-party talks will be held by the end of this month.

   A day later, Ri and Kim attended a seminar at the NCAFP. The seminar saw the first contact between North Korean officials and the foreign policy team of U.S. President-elect Obama.

   Obama has said he is willing to talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to resolve diplomatic issues. He has been critical of the George W. Bush administration for not engaging Pyongyang, saying the North's detonation of a nuclear device in 2006 and the build-up of its nuclear arsenal was in part due to the Bush administration's unwillingness to negotiate.

   Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, was initially scheduled to visit Pyongyang prior to leaving office in 2000, though the plan was scrapped at the last minute.

   Bush labeled North Korea a member of an "axis of evil" that also included Iran and Iraq shortly after taking office. Significant diplomatic progress has been made since then, with North Korea recently nearing the end of phase two in a three-phase denuclearization process.

   During the seminar, North Korea said it hopes to "continue the momentum" of diplomacy with the United States and hold dialogue with the incoming Obama administration, according to a U.S. scholar.

   Donald Zagoria, a professor of international politics at New York's Hunter College, told reporters after sitting in on the seminar that the North Koreans "were interested in continuity" in talks with the Obama government.

   Also attending the seminar was Frank Jannuzi, a senior foreign policy adviser to U.S. President-elect Obama.

   Ri left the venue without responding to questions from reporters. Sung Kim would not elaborate on the contents of the meeting, saying only: "It was a good discussion to improve relations between the U.S. and North Korea."

   Jannuzi also refused to comment on the meeting, saying participants from the NCAFP seminar will respond to reporters' questions. An NCAFP official said the annual meeting was kept closed so that North Korea and the U.S. could discuss bilateral relations freely.

   The professor, who is also a trustee of the NCAFP, dismissed concerns that U.S.-North Korea relations will suffer a setback in the transition period. He noted the Bush administration has been engaging North Korea over the past couple of years, despite its refusal to do so during the first six years of Bush's tenure.

   Under the six-party framework -- which also involves South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- the U.S. dealt directly with North Korea and developed an agreement to denuclearize the communist state in return for economic and energy assistance. Verification issues stalled the process when North Korea refused to allow international monitors unfettered access to key nuclear facilities. The issue has since been resolved, though some have criticized the Bush administration for making notable concessions on the terms of the verification.

   A few days after the seminar, Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan, said Ri's latest visit to New York may signal to the U.S. that the North is willing to discuss pending bilateral issues on a higher level given the change in power.

   The newspaper said the incoming U.S. administration should not spend time pressuring the North, but should pursue a new, positive and independent policy.

  (END)