Report: U.S. met secretly with top North Korean diplomat last month to, er, deliver talking points

I guess it didn’t work.

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…

“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.”

Not the first amateurish move lately towards North Korea, do note. The logic here, I assume, was that they were willing to give baby Kim his bottle, but just a small bottle — an open channel of communication but without any new concessions. He’s been screaming ever since. Second look at pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea?

Is North Korea a threat or not? It’s easy to get confused. But despite Kim Jong Un’s bluster, the regime is only a threat to the U.S. to the extent that we’ve put ourselves in harm’s way…

I don’t begrudge South Korean youth their sense of normalcy, except to the extent that its underwritten by American soldiers and the U.S. taxpayer. The Republic of Korea’s military is slated to shrink below the level needed to deal even with a “rosy scenario” regime collapse, and despite its crazy neighbor to the north, South Korea spends a smaller portion of its gross domestic product on defense than we do (2.6 percent to our 4.7).

The good news is, as my colleague Doug Bandow explains, “the Republic of Korea has 40 times the GDP and twice the population of the North” — it has “both the means and incentive to handle the DPRK” — if we’ll only take them off the dole.

The joint U.S.-ROK approach toward the DPRK’s erratic behavior has been described as “strategic patience.” Given the costs of confrontation, that’s a sound strategy. But we can be just as patient from home.

That’s Gene Healy writing at Reason with an evergreen libertarian solution to U.S. foreign policy challenges. (And it is a U.S. challenge, sooner rather than later even without troops on the peninsula assuming NK’s nuclear program and missile development continue apace.) I was curious: With all the ink spilled lately about the public’s war weariness and the rise of Rand Paul as a force in Republican politics, could voters be coming around to the idea of coming home? CNN asked a sample of Americans, “If South Korea were attacked by North Korea, do you think the United States should use military troops to help defend South Korea, or not?” The results:


Gallup got 55 percent saying yes when it asked a similar question a few days ago, but either way that’s an amazing result after 12 years of Afghanistan and Iraq. I wonder how many of those voters know that there are thousands of U.S. troops in harm’s way in South Korea and that war on the peninsula with Seoul in the crosshairs would likely be the bloodiest conflict of the last 30 years, at least. But oh well: Follow that last link, scroll down to page 23, and check the numbers for yourself. Across every demographic, including young voters, majorities support American defense of South Korea, even though Healy’s right that the South would eventually prevail against the North if it had to go it alone and if China didn’t intervene on the NorKs’ side. Very interested to see how Paul plays this if, heaven forbid, the situation gets any hotter.

Update: Whoops — accidentally typed “North” when I meant “South” up above. Corrected now.

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