Newspaper article International New York Times

Puzzling out a New Charm Offensive

Newspaper article International New York Times

Puzzling out a New Charm Offensive

Article excerpt

A series of gestures from Pyongyang could revive a dormant debate over North Korea policy inside the White House.

For weeks, American intelligence agencies puzzled over the disappearance of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator. Now Mr. Kim is back on the public stage -- a walking stick in his hand -- and it's the State Department's turn to puzzle.

A series of gestures by the North Korean leader, most dramatically the release this week of an imprisoned American tourist, Jeffrey E. Fowle, has raised hopes that after two years of bellicose rhetoric punctuated by periodic missile tests, Mr. Kim is groping for some kind of rapprochement with the United States and its allies.

The charm offensive has been on multiple fronts. North Korea sent a high-level delegation to Incheon, South Korea, to attend the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games. It dispatched a senior envoy to the European Union to express an interest in dialogue, and another to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where the envoy sparred with an establishment crowd over North Korea's human rights record.

On Wednesday, North Korea's state news media said Mr. Kim had personally ordered Mr. Fowle's release after considering requests from President Obama. With Mr. Obama traveling to Beijing next month for a summit meeting of Pacific Rim leaders, that move could be seen as an olive branch to both the United States and China, which is fed up with Pyongyang's provocations but weary of American demands to pressure the regime.

"This is either Kim Jong-un on his own, or the people around him saying, 'We've got to change this paradigm, because it is not working,"' said Joseph R. DeTrani, a longtime C.I.A. official who specialized in North Korea.

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the subtle shift in the diplomatic winds. On a visit to Germany, he said, "We hope that the dynamics can develop in the next weeks, months perhaps, where we could get back to talks."

"The United States is absolutely prepared to do that," Mr. Kerry added. "We've said from Day One that if North Korea wants to rejoin the community of nations, it knows how to do it. …

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