Did Obama send a personal letter to North Korea's Kim Jong Il?

Ambassador Stephen Bosworth won’t say whether he carried a personal message from Obama to North Korea’s leader on his recent trip there. 'I was the message,' he said.

Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service/AP/ File
President Barack Obama's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, being welcomed by an unidentified North Korean official (r.) upon arrival at Pyongyang airport, Dec. 8.

The US envoy who traveled to Pyongyang for the Obama administration’s first high-level talks with North Korea did not get to meet Kim Jong Il, the mercurial North Korean leader.

But he says that he’s not offended. After all, only two American officials have met Kim Jong Il, ever. And those were Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and ex-President Bill Clinton.

“He does not meet with a lot of people. He meets with non-North Koreans very rarely,” said US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth at a Dec. 16 briefing for reporters.

Ambassador Bosworth would not confirm news reports that he carried a personal letter from President Obama to North Korea’s leader.

“I was the message,” said Bosworth.

Glimpse of a better future?

The main point of the message was that the relationship between North Korea and the US, and between North Korea and its East Asian neighbors, could be very different, and more positive, than it is today.

Of course, that is “provided that North Korea proceeds down this road to denuclearization,” said the US envoy.

North Korean officials agreed with him on the need to restart stalled six-party talks involving the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. But they did not set a time when they might return to the negotiating table.

In 2005, North Korea promised to begin dismantling its nuclear efforts in exchange for aid and political concessions. But that was the high point. Negotiations deadlocked shortly thereafter.

US message: don't test again

This June, the UN Security Council tightened sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s second nuclear test. Since then North Korea has refused even to engage in substantive discussions.

Bosworth said that he urged the North Koreans not to set off a third nuclear test. In addition, he told them that their newly revealed uranium enrichment program will have to be included in any future disarmament talks.

North Korea’s existing nuclear devices are thought to be produced with plutonium as their fissile cores. The plutonium came from reprocessing spent fuel rods from a nuclear power reactor.

The US has long suspected that North Korea also had a uranium enrichment program, giving them two ways to produce fissile material. That was confirmed this fall, when Pyongyang announced that it had completed a first phase of uranium enrichment.

“They put it on the agenda,” said Bosworth, by publicly announcing its existence.


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