In his state of the union address last week, u.s. president George W. Bush restrained himself on the topic of North Korea, saying merely: “We are working closely with the governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.” That was it. Nothing about an “axis of evil” or “outposts of oppression.” Leaving aside the question of how closely Washington is working with China and other countries that are urging Kim Jong Il to surrender his nukes, the President’s statement, however brief, signals a continued commitment to the six-party talks, which have been stalled since June. North Korea has been the holdout. It may have been no coincidence, then, that a story appeared in the New York Times the morning before the President’s address claiming the U.S. has evidence that North Korea sold nuclear material to Libya—a subtle attempt, perhaps, to nudge Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
After each of the three previous six-party meetings, which began in 2003, North Korea has left the talks complaining about Washington’s insincerity and hostility. Pyongyang says there’s no point continuing the meetings until that animosity is renounced or toned down. A more practical reason for not resuming talks was that the North Koreans were taking a wait-and-see attitude pending the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections. Now that Bush is back for a second term, there’s every reason for the North to resume the talks, if only to receive the gifts that China, the ever-gracious host country, is sure to give them.
[South Korean President Moon Jae-in]’s been pursuing a parallel diplomatic policy. Basically, it’s like having two partners, and you have to constantly dance with both of them, while at the same time not losing your own stance and your own posture.
[On the inter-Korean talks] It remains to be seen if the more civil atmosphere prior to the Olympics can address the much deeper divide over major substantive issues - in particular, North Korea's nuclear and missile development (which Pyongyang insists is none of Seoul's business) and the almost certain North Korean demands in any future discussions to weaken or dismantle outright the workings of the U.S.-ROK alliance. The critical issue here is whether the ROK is prepared to say 'no' to the inevitable demands from the DPRK, despite the Moon administration's clear desire to improve inter-Korean relations.