The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 10, 2013

U.S. met with North Korea in March

WASHINGTON — A top State Department official met with a top representative of the North Korean government in New York in March, The Cable has learned.

Clifford Hart, the State Department's special envoy to the now-defunct six-party talks, met North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations Han Song-ryol in mid-March, just before North Korea began its latest string of provocative statements and actions, diplomatic sources said. The meeting was done through what's known in diplomatic circles as the "New York channel," the most common method of direct communication between Washington and Pyongyang.

No real progress was made during the meeting and no new offers were made by the U.S. officials present, the sources said. The U.S. side simply reiterated the administration's call for North Korea to avoid provocative actions as well as its offer for a return to diplomacy if North Korea recommitted to fulfilling its international obligations and pursuing a path of denuclearization. The North Korean side simply agreed to communicate that information back to Pyongyang.

For outside experts critical of the Obama administration's current approach to North Korea, which is based on the principle of "strategic patience," or waiting for Pyongyang to change its calculus and rejoin multilateral talks, the meeting is only the latest indication that the administration's policy is stagnant.

"Unfortunately, the New York channel, which in the past was an important communications link between Pyongyang and Washington, appears to have become a place where boilerplate talking points are exchanged," former nuclear negotiator Joel Wit told The Cable. "It's especially disappointing given the ongoing crisis which puts a premium on candid communication to avoid misunderstanding and to find a diplomatic off-ramp from the current tense situation."

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