North Korea has just announced the elevation of two officials who played a key role in its nuclear weapons program, leading many observers to speculate that this signals the reclusive nation's redoubled commitment to maintaining its nuclear status as it likely transitions from the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-Il, to his youngest son.
While it is always a challenge to discern Pyongyang's intentions -- U.S. officials have labeled it America's greatest intelligence failure -- it may be that the North is sending a very different signal. No doubt that both men, Kang Sok Ju and Ri Yong Ho, are highly trusted confidants with long experience in the foreign ministry. But both men also have had decades of experience and interaction with the United States. (I first met Ri Yong Ho in Stockholm in 1992.)
How significant is it that each one will now have more authority to shape North Korea's foreign policy? Does this signal a desire to open up a bilateral dialogue with the United States, perhaps under the auspices of a return to the Six Party Talks? More evidence is needed before we can draw any hard conclusions. But even if this is part of an orchestrated effort to reach out and re-engage the United States, there is no indication yet that Pyongyang has any interest in relinquishing its nuclear weapons program.
Mitchell Reiss, is president of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and the author of the just published Open Road E-Riginal ebook, "Negotiating with Evil: When to Talk to Terrorists." For more information, click here.
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