North Korea

US and North Korea on track to meet for unofficial talks despite Trump threats and nuclear stand-off

Policy specialist says the two sides are likely to talk part in multilateral discussions at regional forum next month

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 11:15pm

North Korea is likely to engage in unofficial, multilateral talks that include the US next month, according to a Northeast Asia policy specialist.

North Korean officials are looking for more clarity about the US government’s willingness to engage in formal dialogue and under what terms, Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS and former special assistant to the head of US Pacific Command, told the South China Morning Post.

“There’s going to be a [Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific] general conference in December and they’ve been invited and we think they’re going to come,” Cossa said. “We’re trying to use track II to educate and push track I forward.”

Unofficial talks bringing lower-level North Korean officials together with analysts and advisers from the US, also known as “track II” dialogue, have continued sporadically this year despite increased missile tests by Pyongyang and threats by US President Donald Trump to hit North Korea with “fire and fury”. Track I refers to talks between senior government officials.

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CSCAP, a 21-member forum for security issues in the region, includes delegations from North Korea, China, Russia and the US and often schedules meetings to coincide with convocations of the Asean Regional Forum.

Cossa, whose think tank organises US delegations to CSCAP meetings, made the remarks after a round-table discussion at the New York-based Korea Society.

North Korea didn’t send any representatives to the most recent CSCAP meeting in Hanoi last week, according to Cossa.

The next CSCAP general meeting will convene on December 14 and 15 in Chiang Mai, Thailand with the theme of the conference billed “towards a peaceful transformation of regional order in the Asia Pacific”.

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“In January we had a session with all of the members of the six-party talks in Auckland. It’s been a good process; the North Koreans have come to it. It’s one of the few opportunities where they get to tell people what they think and so it works to their benefit to make their case.

“But it’s also a good opportunity for them to hear what Indonesia and Malaysia and others think about what they’re doing in the nuclear field.”

Cossa cautioned that the erratic signals sent by Trump and the president’s failure to staff his State Department fully make it difficult for Americans sent to track II talks to provide the clarity the North Korean government wants.

For example, Susan Thornton has been serving as interim assistant secretary of state since March and Trump has yet to appoint an ambassador to South Korea.

“The North Koreans have been reaching out to various track II organisations because they’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on,” Cossa said during the round-table discussion.

“If you talk to six Americans you get seven different opinions of what US policy is right now and I think that can be confusing to the North Koreans.”