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Dispatch from Pyongyang: An Offer You Can’t Refuse!

December 9, 2009

Every North Korean seems to have been mobilized for an all-out push to mark their country’s arrival as a “strong and powerful nation” in 2012, which marks the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, Kim Jong Il’s 70th birthday, and the 30th birthday of Kim Jong Il’s third son and reported successor, Kim Jong-Eun. Pyongyang citizens have cleaned up the city during a 150-day labor campaign, followed by a second 100-day campaign now underway. The Ryugyong Hotel in the middle of Pyongyang, unfinished for over two decades, has been given a facelift courtesy of the Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom, which expects to have 100,000 mobile phone customers in Pyongyang by the end of the year. But it is still difficult to shake the feeling in Pyongyang that one has walked onto a movie set in between takes. Or that the used car looks good on the outside, but you really don’t know what you might find if you were able to look under the hood or give it a test-drive.

North Korean foreign ministry officials seem to have moved on from nuclear talks, although they make clear their outrage at United Nations condemnation of their April multi-stage rocket launch as an affront to their sovereignty. This is the ostensible reason the North Koreans have walked away from six party talks. Having conducted a second nuclear test, North Korean officials want to be considered as a nuclear power, choosing instead to “magnanimously” set aside nuclear differences in order to focus on the need to eliminate U.S. “hostile policy” by replacing the armistice with a permanent peace settlement. Essentially, Pyongyang’s new offer – as a “nuclear weapons state” – has shifted from the denuclearization for normalization deal at the core of the 2005 Six Party Joint Statement to “peace first; denuclearization, maybe later.”  There was no mention of “action for action” by our North Korean interlocutors.

But the North Koreans are likely to find when Ambassador Bosworth arrives in Pyongyang this week that the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. There is virtually no area of agreement between the two governments on the nuclear issue based on public statements made by the two sides thus far, suggesting the likelihood that both sides will face a difficult conversation…

Read the full piece in the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy’s December newsletter.

Scott Snyder directs The Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy. He visited Pyongyang on Nov. 21-24 as part of a three-person delegation led by former U.S. special envoy to North Korea Jack Pritchard. He can be reached at ssnyder@asiafound-dc.org.

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