The United States is quietly pursuing direct diplomacy with North Korea, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday, despite US President Donald Trump’s public assertion that such talks are a waste of time.
Using the so-called “New York channel,” Joseph Yun, US negotiator with North Korea, has been in contact with diplomats at Pyongyang’s United Nations mission, the official said, at a time when an exchange of bellicose insults between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has fuelled fears of military conflict.
While US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on 17 October said he would continue “diplomatic efforts … until the first bomb drops,” the official’s comments were the clearest sign the United States was directly discussing issues beyond the release of American prisoners, despite Trump having dismissed direct talks as pointless.
There is no sign, however, that the behind-the-scenes communications have improved a relationship vexed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the death of US university student Otto Warmbier days after his release by Pyongyang in June and the detention of three other Americans.
Word of quiet engagement with Pyongyang comes despite Trump’s comments, North Korea’s weapons advances and suggestions by some US and South Korean officials that Yun’s interactions with North Koreans had been reined in. “It has not been limited at all, both (in) frequency and substance,” said the senior State Department official.
Among the points that Yun has made to his North Korean interlocutors is to “stop testing” nuclear bombs and missiles, the official said.
North Korea in 2017 conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation and has test-fired a volley of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that, if perfected, could in theory reach the United States mainland.
The possibility that Pyongyang may be closer to attaching a nuclear warhead to an ICBM has alarmed the Trump administration, which in April unveiled a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” that has so far failed to deter North Korea.
At the start of Trump’s presidency, Yun’s instructions were limited to seeking the release of US prisoners. “It is (now) a broader mandate than that,” said the State Department official, declining, however, to address whether authority had been given to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
Reference: Reuters/ News agencies