Joshua PollackThe Great North Korea Reading Comprehension Challenge

According to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il used his visit to China to express his desire to return to the Six-Party Talks. But skepticism abounds. In Wednesday’s Washington Post, Chico Harlan reported that nameless U.S. officials thought it “notable” that KCNA, the official North Korean news agency, had failed to carry the same message.

So, how carefully have the anonymous officials or Mr. Harlan been reading KCNA?


Kim Yong Nam [president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly] expressed the will of the DPRK government for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks.

In particular, he emphasized that it is the behest of President Kim Il Sung to denuclearize the peninsula.

The tricky part, I suppose, is that the Xinhua report fell on Aug. 30, after KJI had returned home, whereas the KCNA item in question — an account of Kim Yong Nam’s exchange with Jimmy Carter — appeared on Aug. 27.

So it seems that the North Koreans issued the same message simultaneously to the U.S. and China, but the U.S. has yet to open its mail. They must be mystified over there in Pyongyang: doesn’t an ex-President have high-level access? (Answer: certainly, if he is married to the Secretary of State.)

None of which is to say that Washington will be satisfied with the message. As the Post account makes clear, the test here is whether the North Koreans are willing to reaffirm their disarmament commitments of 2005 and 2007. One merely hopes that when the North Koreans convey that message, someone in Washington will notice.

Late Update | Sept. 16. Jimmy Carter reports in the New York Times that North Korean officials he spoke with in August were “ready to demonstrate their desire for peace and denuclearization. They referred to the six-party talks as being ‘sentenced to death but not yet executed.'”

Separately, in an account of his subsequent trip to China (posted at the Carter Center website), he relates the following conversation with Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao:

He was quite interested in my visit to Pyongyang and confirmed that the positive messages I received there were the same that Kim Jong Il had brought to China. He surprised us by quoting the DPRK leader regarding the prospective promotion of his son, Kim Jong Un, as “a false rumor from the West.” We’ll just have to wait to learn the truth about the succession in power.


  1. 3.1415 (History)

    There is no need to read the tea leaves. The Dear Leader has made it clear ad nauseam that he is determined to use his strategic location to ensure the survival and inheritance of his power. He is providing China a strategic buffer against the forward-deployed US troops. For that, he gets pretty much what he wants from China. When his tantrums get too bad, the sugar daddy will remind him where the next meal will come from. If United States really thinks that DPRK is a “threat”, it has to make a deal with China. There will not be a second Korean War and China will not export the “Beijing Consensus” any time soon, to North Korea or elsewhere. China wants the status quo. If the US squeezes too much around China, there will be consequences. While a divorce between China and US is unthinkable, the bickering spouses do have the ability to incur significant discomfort to each other. The best way is to maintain the façade of a loving family for the sake of world peace. Let’s toast for the Sino-US friendship like the old days when there was the USSR.

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