Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Almost Diplomacy: US Ex-Officials, NKoreans Quietly Meet

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Almost Diplomacy: US Ex-Officials, NKoreans Quietly Meet

Article excerpt

Officially, the United States and North Korea barely speak to each other, their communications often limited to public exchanges of insults.

The U.S. ambassador in Seoul is "a villain, a crazy person," a North Korean diplomat says. North Korea is a "wasteland" compared with South Korea, President Barack Obama tells the United Nations.

But out of the limelight, and sometimes in secret, a small corps of former U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials, often working with academic specialists, meet regularly with high-ranking North Koreans. They have sat down in Singapore, Berlin, Beijing and elsewhere to discuss everything from the details of North Korea's nuclear program to concerns about the effects of international trade sanctions on Pyongyang. They have talked about the growing security fears in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, and about the timing of North Korean missile tests.

If it's not quite diplomacy, it sometimes gets pretty close.

"The North Koreans understand that we're in no way representing the United States government. So sometimes, we can raise things that the U.S. government isn't able to," said Leon V. Sigal, a former State Department policy official and long a key player in what are commonly called Track 2 talks. "I can say to them, 'Hey, this is why the U.S. government is doing this.' And then probe and say to them: 'Look, what you're doing is not going to work. How about this?' "

The two countries did quietly hold a series of discussions, apparently late last year, but those came to nothing. Since then, North Korea has staged two nuclear tests and a flurry of missile tests.

Though Track 2 talks are common between rival countries Indian academics, for instance, regularly meet with their Pakistani counterparts the North Korean discussions are often seen as a key part of Washington-Pyongyang relations.

To critics, the Track 2 North Korea meetings are a waste of time. …

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