While North Korea has no formal relations with the United States, Pyongyang does have a special envoy who chairs the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s special department on North America. Choe Son-hui is best described as the DPRK’s in-house expert on the United States, a country whose media and political system the DPRK is known to study closely.
To this end, Choe Son-hui who also functions as the closest analogue to a DPRK envoy to the United States, attempted to fly to Washington for informal discussions with US authorities in February of this year, shortly after Donald Trump moved into the White House. However, the US authorities refused to issue her a visa and the talks were called off.
Today, Choe Son-hui is in Moscow where she will hold private discussions with Oleg Burmistrov, the Ambassador at large at the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Little has been said in respect of the reasons for or nature of the meeting, but realistic inferences can be made. The meeting was apparently arranged while North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho was in New York to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. Thus, it is almost certain that the meeting is an attempt by North Korea to engage with a super-power that unlike the US, is willing to listen respectfully to what North Korea has to say.
Russia’s position on North Korea is far more dynamic than many acknowledge. While many focus on Russia’s calls for both North and South Korea to cease missile launches, while calling on the US to cease its deliveries of the THAAD missile systems to Seoul, in addition to calling for a pause in America’s provocative military drills, few focus on what Russia is offering as an alternative to unchecked militarism.
While the preferred US method for dealing with North Korea is through threats of war and destruction, Russia has offered both Korean states an incentive for cooperation. During the recent Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Vladimir Putin proposed a tripartite economic cooperation initiative which would effectively create a trade corridor as well as a gas pipeline corridor going from Russia to South Korea, passing through the North. There is also discussion about a high-speed rail way from South Korea, with one line going to Russia via the DPRK and another into China via the DPRK.
Such proposals come as Russia’s economic relations with South Korea continue to grow at a rapid pace, while Russia’s traditional good relations with North Korea (by North Korean standards) remain largely stable.
Russia’s proposal which The Duran has named “Two Koreas–One Road” offers the best prospects for increased trust and consequently for de-escalation between the two states. Such proposals could also theoretically lead to a new thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Seoul after things have become increasingly tense after the so-called Sunshine Policy of Seoul came to an end in 2008.
The US has no real plan for North Korea, but especially under Donald Trump, Washington has plenty of threats. Likewise, the US is giving little room for South Korea to attain the kind of flexible posture vis-a-vis the DPRK that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has advocated. Russia by contrast is offering incentives for both the North and South and a surprising amount of flexibility for both.
If anyone can solve the Korean crisis, that man may well be the same individual who has helped Syria to defeat terrorism: President Vladimir Putin.