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No more U.S. special envoy on Korean peninsula?

Posted February. 26, 2001 14:51,   


In five weeks since the inauguration of U.S. President George W. Bush, details of the Republican administration`s North Korea policy have gradually surfaced. Among the notable changes is that the Bush government has apparently decided not to name a North Korea policy coordinator and special envoy to the peace talks on the Korean peninsula. The previous holders of these posts were prime movers behind the North Korea policy of former president Bill Clinton`s Democratic administration. The fact that the new administration has no plans to fill these posts is a sign that it intends to incorporate its stance on North Korea into its overall policy on the East Asian region, according to experts.

Stalled dialogue expected between NK, US

During the Clinton government, Amb. Charles Kartman and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan opened a dialogue channel known as the ``K-K Line`` on pending issues between the two countries.

North Korea policy coordinator Wendy Sherman played an important role in maintaining an atmosphere conducive to stepping up relations between the two countries. As soon as she was named to succeed William Perry in September last year, she arranged then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright`s historic trip to North Korea and promoted Clinton`s proposed visit to Pyongyang.

The Bush administration will reportedly have James Kelly, undersecretary of state for Asia-Pacific affairs, handle its policy on the Korean peninsula in tandem with his responsibility for the region as a whole.

In the past, the undersecretary for Asia-Pacific affairs acted as U.S. representative to the four-party talks and to the tripartite policy coordination group (TOCG) among Korea, U.S. and Japan. Based on the change from this structure, it is expected to take considerable time for the Bush administration to open a direct dialogue channel with Pyongyang.

Crisis and opportunity at the same time?

Government officials took the Bush administration`s demand for North Korean conventional arms reductions as a sign of its intention to handle its Korea stance within the framework of its East Asia policy, which stands as a stark contract to the Clinton administration`s approach to the issue.

The Clinton government had focused exclusively on the question of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear missiles, while the Bush administration apparently plans to monitor even conventional arms as it seeks to minimize the security threat posed by North Korea. Through this means, the Bush government reportedly plans to reassess the current U.S. troop presence in Asia, including South Korea. The new U.S. policy stands in opposition to the Korean government`s plan to ease tensions and build mutual trust through inter-Korean dialogue, such as the defense ministers` talks on conventional weapons cuts.

A government official said, ``We are explaining to the U.S. side through various channels that direct dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea would be helpful to improving their relations. If a slowdown in North Korea-U.S. relations appears inevitable, the gap should be filled by accelerating inter-Korean relations.``