- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

SEOUL — Two former American officials, returning from North Korea after Tuesdays New York Philharmonic concert and meetings with Pyongyangs top nuclear negotiator, say they are convinced the hard line state desires improved relations with the United States. They are seeing a different face of America for the first time, Korea Society head Evans Revere, a former State Department official who negotiated extensively with North Korean negotiator during the Clinton administration. That contrasts significantly with the image they have talked about for over half a century. Others with past experience in the North, dismiss the concert as a propaganda coup for ruler Kim Jong-il, noting that the North Korean media typically interprets visits by prominent foreigners as guests coming ”to pay tribute” to Mr. Kim, known to fellow countrymen as the “dear leader.” Mr. Revere told a group of businessmen in Seoul today that improved U.S. relations are the centerpiece of a foreign policy sought by many North Koreans. I think there was an internal debate in North Korea and I think this was an experiment by those in favor of opening up, said Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and ex-CIA station chief in Tokyo, who traveled with Mr. Revere. The hand of those favoring opening up has been strengthened. Together with former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, Mr. Revere and Mr. Gregg met chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan in Pyongyang. They urged him to strike a deal with Washington immediately, rather than wait for the next administration to take office. Our point was, Do it now, Mr. Gregg recalled. Kim took it very seriously. However, some North Korean officials believe Washington has moved the goalposts and not reciprocated for its early denuclearization moves, Mr. Revere said. Pyongyang had expected to be removed from the list of terrorist-sponsoring states and the Trading with the Enemy Act, he said. He suggested that a separate mechanism may be required for issues such as North Koreas reported nuclear link with Syria. With denuclearization talks stalled by Washingtons insistence that the Norths declaration of its atomic programs is incomplete, Mr. Gregg said that North Korea has been embarrassed by honest declarations before. After North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 that Pyongyang had kidnapped Japanese citizens, relations nose-dived. The impact of what the Japanese did has had a residual effect, Mr. Gregg said. The New York-based Korean Society helped broker the concert after the orchestra received a garbled fax from North Korea last summer — when the denuclearization process was going smoothly. The concert is believed to be the first time the “Star Spangled Banner” has been played publicly in Korea. Pyongyang has hosted U.S. artists before — including a pro-wrestling extravaganza and musical performances by George Clinton, classical musicians and even Grammy-winning gospel group the Casting Crowns — but the Philharmonics concert was the highest profile event yet. As it played live on North Korean TV the concert must have had the personal seal of approval of the Norths highest leadership, Mr. Revere said. Further cultural exchanges appear imminent. Reuters, citing North Koreas embassy in London, confirmed that Pyongyang has invited rock icon Eric Clapton. Kim Jong-chol, Kim Jong-ils second son, who studied in Bern, Switzerland, was spotted at four Clapton concerts in Germany in 2006. But others warn that cultural exchange will not lead to policy breakthroughs — or even changes in the regimes propaganda messaging. Noting that North Korean media traditionally paints visitors to the North — including former U.S. and South Korean presidents Jimmy Carter and Kim Dae-jung — as coming in tribute to their leadership, Brian Myers, a North Korean specialist at Dongseo University, warned, As Americans, we put a lot of trust and hope into these kinds of cultural things. Warm-hearted intentions are turned around, said Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, a former German aid doctor in North Korean, now an anti-regime activist. I donated some of my skin (to a burn victim), but the story was that I donated it for juche and Kim Jong-il. We are abused in our naiveness.

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