North, South Korea Hold Secret Food Talks: U.S. Excluded from Beijing Sessions
Barber, Ben, Gertz, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
North Korea, hard hit by famine and anxious to win aid and trade, has begun secret talks in Beijing with archenemy South Korea, and the United States has been excluded.
The discussions focused on food aid to North Korea as well as the U.S. initiative for holding talks with China and the two Koreas, a senior U.S. official said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
He described the existence of the talks as a closely held secret. "Some in the South Korean government don't even know about them," the official said.
A report on the secret, direct talks between Seoul and Pyongyang first appeared in the June 6 issue of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review. Citing analysts in Washington, it said, "At least one session has been held in Beijing in recent weeks."
The authoritative magazine said the contact is a sign that economic conditions in North Korea are so bad that the communist country is ready to abandon its insistence that it deal only with the United States and will begin to talk directly with South Korea.
"I have confirmed to my satisfaction there are some talks going on between North and South," said Robert Manning, who was an Asia analyst at the Pentagon and the State Department in the Bush administration.
"It is not a surprise - the North is on a peace offensive," said Mr. Manning, now with the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington research group.
"My understanding is they are not telling anyone in the U.S. government about the talks, and that is a measure of deterioration of U.S.-Korean relations," he said.
The secret session fostered speculation that China was chosen as the venue because of recognition by South Korea that the Asian giant will overshadow Japan as the regional superpower of the future. The Americans were excluded as a signal that their future as a military power in Asia is waning.
Except for the senior U.S. official with knowledge of the talks, several other well-placed administration officials who deal with Asia policy said they had no knowledge of any such talks. A State Department official said, "I have seen news reports of a North-South meeting but cannot confirm them."
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the reports.
An Asian diplomat in Washington, in a veiled reference to the Beijing talks, said only, "There are some flexible signs from the DPRK with respect to the four-party talks proposal," referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).
China, which was invited by President Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young-sam to join the four-power talks, said it was willing to participate in them but wanted "differences among the parties to be ironed out first," the diplomat said. …