Well, this is a surprise.
How would the Trump administration approach making peace with North Korea? It’s not been on top of the news cycle because President Trump hasn’t talked about it much.
By The Washington Post
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Preparations are underway to bring senior North Korean representatives to the United States for talks with former American officials, the first such meeting in more than five years and a sign that Pyongyang sees a potential opening with the Trump administration.
Arranging the talks has become a lot more complicated over the past eight days, with North Korea testing a ballistic missile and the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half brother in Malaysia, an act that many suspect was ordered by the leader of North Korea. Malaysian police on Sunday named as suspects four North Koreans who left the country on the day of the attack.
Analysts also say they are highly doubtful that Pyongyang, which has insisted on being recognized as a nuclear state, would be willing to moderate its position on its weapons program.
But if the talks do take place, they could offer a glimmer of hope for an already-hostile relationship that has only deteriorated as the Kim government works aggressively to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental United States.
The planning for the “Track 1.5” talks – with the U.S. side made up of the former officials who usually take part in Track 2 talks, but the North Korean side comprising government officials – is still in a preparatory stage, according to multiple people with knowledge of the arrangements.
The State Department has not yet approved the North Koreans’ visas for the talks, which would take place in New York within the next few weeks.
“The North Koreans have expressed an interest in engagement, but nothing’s been approved yet,” said one person familiar with the preparations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them. Others who have been in touch with North Koreans describe an intense interest in what President Donald Trump might do.
“If this happens, it would be an interesting signal to the new administration,” he said of the discussions.
The talks would be the clearest indication yet that Kim wants to talk with the Trump administration. “If this happens, I would take it as a very positive sign from both sides,” said another person with knowledge of the arrangements.
In recent years, there have been sporadic Track 1.5 talks that have taken place in Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Berlin and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But these talks have not taken place in the United States since July 2011, before Kim succeeded his father in North Korea.
The planned talks are being organized by Donald S. Zagoria of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, who served as a consultant on Asia during the Carter administration and has organized previous rounds of such talks. Zagoria declined to comment on the preparations.
The talks would be run independently of the State Department, where officials have privately questioned the utility of such discussions. But if the administration issued the visas – not required when the talks are held in third countries – it would be an implicit seal of approval.
Choe Son Hui, the director of the U.S. affairs department in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, is likely to lead the delegation from Pyongyang. She is well known to American officials, having participated in official meetings including the six-party talks on denuclearization, as well as in other Track 1.5 talks.
Choe has a direct line to Kim, according to Thae Yong Ho, the North Korean deputy ambassador to London who defected to South Korea last year.
Since Trump was elected, there has been a notable change in North Korea’s usually bombastic rhetoric.
Pyongyang had been sharply critical of the Obama administration, saying its policy of “strategic patience” – waiting for North Korea to change its nuclear calculations – was “an aggressive and heinous ‘strategic suffocation’ policy” against North Korea.
But in its announcement of its missile launch Feb. 12, the North’s state media did not include its usual bluster about needing a deterrent against the United States and its “hostile policies.”