- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

SEOUL — Two former American officials, returning from North Korea after Tuesday’s New York Philharmonic concert and meetings with Pyongyang’s top nuclear negotiator, said 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,” said Evans Revere, head of the Korea Society and a former North Korea negotiator at the State Department. “That contrasts significantly with the image they have talked about for over half a century.”

Speaking with U.S. businessmen in Seoul yesterday, Mr. Revere said improved U.S. relations are “the centerpiece” of North Korean foreign policy.

“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 former CIA station chief in Tokyo who traveled with Mr. Revere.

“The hand of those favoring opening up has been strengthened,” Mr. Gregg said.

Mr. Revere, Mr. Gregg and William J. Perry, a Clinton administration defense secretary, met in Pyongyang with chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan and urged him to strike a deal with Washington immediately, rather than wait for the next administration.

“Our point was, ‘Do it now,’ ” Mr. Gregg said. “Kim took it very seriously.”

However, some North Korean officials think Washington has “moved the goal posts” and not reciprocated for its early moves toward denuclearization, Mr. Revere said.

Pyongyang expected to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and prohibitions under the Trading With the Enemy Act, he said. He suggested that a separate mechanism may be required for issues such as North Korea’s reported proliferation link with Syria.

The denuclearization process is stalled by Washington’s insistence that the North’s declaration of its atomic programs is incomplete, but Mr. Gregg said honest declarations have embarrassed Pyongyang.

After North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 that his country had kidnapped Japanese citizens, relations were increasingly strained.

“The impact of what the Japanese did has had a residual effect,” Mr. Gregg said.

The New York-based Korea Society helped broker the concert after the orchestra received a garbled fax from North Korea last summer while the denuclearization process was progressing smoothly.

The concert is thought to mark the first time the U.S. national anthem has been played publicly in North Korea.

Pyongyang has hosted other U.S. performances, including a pro-wrestling extravaganza and concerts by George Clinton, classical musicians and the Casting Crowns, but the New York Philharmonic’s visit was the highest-profile event.

Critics warn that cultural exchanges will not lead to policy breakthroughs or changes in the regime’s propaganda.

“As Americans, we put a lot of trust and hope into these kinds of cultural things,” said Brian Myers, a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea.

He said the North Korean press portrayed visits by former President Jimmy Carter, Kim Dae-jung, the former South Korean leader, and other dignitaries as tributes to Kim Jong-il.

“Warm-hearted intentions are turned around,” said Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician and former aid worker who was forced out of North Korea.

“I donated some of my skin [to a burn victim], but the story was that I donated it for Juche, [the North Korean ideology], and Kim Jong-il. We are abused in our naiveness.”

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