North Korea turning toward diplomacy
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea is moving to maintain relations with the outside world amid international scrutiny over its nuclear program and as new leader Kim Jong-un seeks to burnish his credentials.
Watchers here have taken note of a recent flurry of diplomatic trips taken by North Korean diplomats to shore up relations in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Some say Pyongyang’s recent announcement that it does not plan to conduct a nuclear test was an apparent gesture to Washington to rekindle diplomacy.
The campaign comes at a sensitive time for Pyongyang as it works to consolidate popular support for new leader Kim Jong-un following the death of his father Kim Jong-il late last year. Observers say the North is working to buoy its economy with foreign investment and aid to convince the impoverished people of improvements to come.
In the latest effort, the Korean Central News Agency on Thursday reported on a trip to Vietnam by ruling party secretariat Kim Yong-il during which the two sides held friendly talks. This followed high-level visits to Laos, Indonesia and Singapore. Kim also visited Chinese President Hu Jintao in April.
It has also been reported that North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun attended a meeting of non-aligned countries in Egypt last month, another opportunity to check on traditional ties.
The main question however remains whether the North will make positive gestures toward the United States after Pyongyang’s failed rocket launch in April scuttled a food aid deal between the nations.
Analysts said that Pyongyang’s announcement earlier this month that it wasn’t planning a highly-speculated nuclear test “at present” was a sign it was willing to head back to the negotiating table.
Washington says it is ready to engage Pyongyang but that it refuses to perpetuate the North’s cycle of provocation and negotiation. Analysts say that the Barack Obama administration will be cautious to engage the Stalinist regime during election season.
Calling him “young man,” U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton last week urged Kim Jong-un to bolster his international standing by reforming his country to improve the quality of life there.