North Korea's U.N. envoy Sin Son Ho emerged from a three-year media blackout on Friday to host a nearly hour long press conference. And it was a doozy. Sin not only demanded the dismantling of the "evil" American-led U.N. Command, which is responsible for the defense of South Korea. He also denounced the U.S. military presence in the region as "the "root of evil," a "tumor laying a stepping stone for the U.S. armed forces aggression toward the DPRK."
But Sin, who was accompanied by two aides, wasn't hostile the entire time. The North Korean envoy said his government was willing to have "broad and in depth discussions" about "issues of mutual concern" with the United States, including North Korea's proposal to replace the 1953 Armistice ending the Korean War with a formal peace treaty.
The North Korean proposal has little hope of flying in Washington, according to observers of the region, because the United States is unlikely to discuss a future peace deal with Pyongyang without a commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons.
And Sin made it clear that something Pyongyang won't do. "The DPRK will never give up its nuclear deterrent unless the U.S. fundamentally and irreversibly abandons its hostile policy and nuclear threat toward the DPRK."
But today's press conference was noteworthy in that it even took place. A decade ago, North Korean officials periodically held public briefings for U.N. reporters. Each September, at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly debate, a senior North Korean official would invited a small group of western reporters to the U.S. mission to the United Nations for a press conference. But those limited contacts largely fell off as diplomatic relations with the United States worsened.
It had been three years since Sin had briefed the U.N. press corps at a formal press conference. In June, 2010, Sin called together U.N. reporters to denounce American efforts to impose sanctions on North Korea for sinking the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan and killing the 46 sailors aboard. The public silence that followed that episode reflected the sorry state of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It coincided with a more belligerent military strategy, marked by successive missile and nuclear tests.
Evans Revere, a former State Department official who oversaw relations with the North Korean's New York delegation, said he believes that Pyongyang is pursuing a diplomatic opening with the U.S., South Korea and Japan because of mounting pressure from China to do so.
But Revere, who still maintains contacts with North Korean officials, said that he sees little hope of a breakthrough, noting that the North Korean have made clear publicly and privately that they are not interested in dismantling of their nuclear weapons program. "They don't want to focus on denuclearization," Revere said. "The offer they made the other day, and the rhetoric in public and private, suggests that for a number of reasons they feel compelled to offer negotiations and talks but they really don't want to talk about what the United States and others want to talk about."
In his briefing today, Sin remained focused on portraying the United States as the principle villain in the East Asia, saying it was increasing military tensions through a series of joint military drills with South Korea last March and April.
"It is the U.S. military exercise which is causing the tension and troubles," he said "As long as the U.S. continues its hostile policy toward the DPRK and threatens it with nuclear weapons ,the DPRK will never give up its self-defense war deterrent."
Sin urged the United States to lift economic sanctions on his country, and urged other foreign powers not to "blindly follow" Washington's lead on sanctions. He dodged a question about his country's reaction to claims by the group Anonymous that it is preparing to release to the public a batch of hacked North Korean military documents on June 25. In response to a question about North Korea's human rights conduct, he answered: "There are no human rights problems in my country."
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Stan Honda/ AFP