The Los Angeles Times is reporting that US officials made two trips to North Korea in 2012 following the death of Jim Jong Il to try and improve relations with his successor, Kim’s son Kim Jong-Un.
A White House official made two secret visits to North Korea last year in an unsuccessful effort to improve relations after new ruler Kim Jong Un assumed power, according to former U.S. officials familiar with the trips.
The brief visits in April and August were aimed at encouraging the new leadership to moderate its foreign policy after the death of Kim’s father, longtime autocrat Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.
The ruling elite apparently spurned the outreach effort, however. This month, after a surge of fierce anti-U.S. rhetoric, the government in Pyongyang defied international warnings and conducted its third and most powerful underground nuclear test.
The former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the back-channel trips have not been formally disclosed, said the first visit was an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Pyongyang not to launch a long-range rocket.
North Korea carried out the launch April 12. The missile flew only a few minutes before it exploded and crashed into the sea. A subsequent test of another long-range rocket in December was successful.
The April trip was led by Joseph DeTrani, a North Korea expert who then headed the National Counter Proliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates U.S. intelligence agencies, the former U.S. officials said. It was unclear who led the August trip.
It may have been naive to think that the NoKos would change their foreign policy, but if there was ever a time for outreach, it was after a regime change. This is especially true since so little was known about Kim Jong-Un. He had visited extensively in the West, which gave him a leg up on the rest of that closed clique that surrounded his father. In retrospect, it appears to have been a good gamble.
But the subsequent bellicosity from North Korea would seem to indicate that it really doesn’t matter much who is at the top of the leadership structure. In order to survive, it is necessary to maintain a strident anti-Amnericanism.
Given the stakes, the administration made the right move in trying to improve our relations with them.