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[Op-Ed] Clinton’s Ignoring of NK Ambassador

Posted July. 25, 2009 08:05,   


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ignored Thursday North Korean Ambassador Pak Kun Gwang, who frowned to express his discontent at Clinton for ignoring him while passing other diplomats. This occurred at the 16th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Phuket, Thailand. Photos of their encounter implicitly demonstrate that Washington-Pyongyang relations that are at their lowest level.

The forum is the only inter-governmental council of multilateral security guarantees in the Asia-Pacific region and comprises 23 member countries, including the two Koreas. The event was the first opportunity for foreign ministers from the two Koreas and the U.S. to hold talks since 2002, when the second North Korean nuclear crisis began. Seven years ago, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke with North Korean counterpart Paik Nam Sun on resuming dialogue. Powell used the “pull aside meeting” method to meet Paik, in which the American guided the North Korean to a corner for talks. Powell’s successor Condoleezza Rice also held talks with North Korean counterpart Pak Ui Chun last year.

This year, Washington and Pyongyang are expected not to hold face-to-face talks. A U.S. State Department source said it has no plans to meet individually with North Korean officials. North Korea also ruled out ministerial talks by sending an ambassador-level official to the forum instead of its foreign minister. Neither the U.S. nor North Korea even attempted to hold dialogue, recognizing that bilateral relations have reached rock bottom and a point where it is impossible even to try to resolve the deep impasse at brief meetings on the sidelines of a multilateral forum.

After all, North Korea and the U.S. took their own respective paths. Clinton proposed a comprehensive package to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff contingent upon “complete and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear program.” Pyongyang flatly rejected the offer. Clinton and North Korea are exchanging verbal barbs as well. After Clinton called Pyongyang an “unruly teenager,” North Korea hit back by calling her “an elementary schoolgirl” and a “pensioner who needs geriatric care.” Clinton showed through words and behavior the U.S. government’s determination to make no concessions before North Korea changes. The verbal exchange between Washington and Pyongyang appear to be a oral dispute between elementary schoolchildren. As is always the case, it is difficult to find any diplomatic rhetoric in Pyongyang’s tough talk.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)