Kim-Trump Summit – a Game Changer?

13 04 2018

Pivot to Asia pic(RADIO SPUTNIK, John Harrison’s PIVOT TO ASIA, 12.04.2018) The much-heralded summit between President Trump and N. Korean leader Kim Jung-un is apparently going ahead, and preparatory negotiations are already taking place. What do we know of the agenda, and how important is it for Kim Jung-un to have Russia and China’s approval of negotiation terms. Joining the program to talk about this situation is Dr Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra.

Despite the situation in Syria, Dr Petrov feels that the summit will go ahead, because negotiations between the White House, the State Department and North Korean negotiators are taking place, so there is every reason to expect that the summit will happen before or during May. The situation is serious, with the Japanese recently activating their naval units for the first time since the Second World War. “It looks like there is a multilateral preparation going on for a potential tectonic shift with China and Russia on one side, the United States, Australia and Japan on the other, and South Korea somewhere in between…”

Japan sees the likelihood of the summit yielding positive results as being quite low, indeed Japan possibly sees the summit as being little other than a delaying tactic. Dr Petrov says: “Japan believes that it is a victim of the North Korean nuclear program,…however at the same time there have even been rumors that [Japan’s] Prime Minister Abe was also interested in having a summit with Kim Jung-un…”

China is perhaps in a difficult situation because on the one hand Beijing hopes that there will be an agreement reached at the summit but on the other hand will no doubt insist that US troops do not enter North Korea, as that would mean that they will be able to position themselves along the Chinese border, something the Chinese would never agree to. Dr Petrov comments:

“China has the so called three ‘No policies’ towards the Korean peninsula. Beijing doesn’t want to see another war in Korea, it doesn’t want the Korean peninsula to be nuclear, and they don’t want the North Korean regime to collapse….N. Korea [to the Chinese] plays the very important role of a buffer state separating the militarized South Korea from China, from Russia and definitely Beijing and Moscow would be very cautious about a major change in geopolitics; that’s why they are doing everything possible to support the regime despite joining the international sanctions against North Korea….Pyongyang and Beijing signed the Mutual Friendship and Security Treaty in 1961, which is still in force and it will remain in force until 2021….Kim Jong-un has very skillfully played Beijing off against Moscow and has tried to maintain an equidistant approach; milking both Russia and China, and it looks like Kim Jong-un is going to continue this policy. This time, North Korea is at a crossroads, whether to have a major deal, an agreement with the United States or not….All eyes in Moscow and Beijing are now on North Korea. Kim Jong-un understands this, and he tries to ensure his success in negotiations by having Russia and China as allies, not as enemies.”

The United States’ major goal is clearly to see North Korea de-nuclearized, however there is also the possibility of Trump offering a grand bargain, “‘everything for everything’ which potentially may work well for Kim Jung-un who is also a maverick leader and who is prepared to go ahead with unconventional negotiating strategies,…it looks like everything is right for the summit, in terms of a potential list of topics for discussions, but the interpretations can be very different. For example, the United States talks about the denuclearization of North Korea whilst the North Koreans talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula…”

If the Americans can guarantee the future existence of North Korea is not clear, because, as Dr Petrov points out: “for the Americans, the alliance with South Korea and Japan is not just a symbolic thing. It’s a matter of revenue. The American military industrial complex provides [American] allies in the region with state-of-the-art military equipment, jet fighters, anti-missile systems, and without North Korea, without an aggressive, irrational, dangerous North Korea, no one would buy them.”

For the Americans, it is clearly important that Trump is able to make a deal with Kim, even if only to show that the US is still the biggest boy on the block in the region. “There could be a number of scenarios. One scenario would be that the status quo is maintained and there is no change to the Cold War structure, animosity, distrust and the arms race. For the United States, I believe this is the most preferred option. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo support the White House’s decision to negotiate with Kim Jong-un actually….They think it is likely to be just a meeting which would lead to nothing. The second scenario which would be a major breakthrough would be where Trump and Kim agree on bettering relations in principal, something verifiable, something irreversible. But denuclearization of North Korea cannot be verified, nobody would trust the North Korean leader because somewhere in the mountains there might be just one last nuclear device hidden for a rainy day. Trust must be built up and to build trust there should be more than just one handshake and a photo opportunity. Sanctions should be lifted, security assurances must be provided, there should be potential diplomatic recognition of North Korea…” Such a peace treaty would be a major step forward.

One thing is clear, Kim Jung-un needs to have Beijing and Moscow on its side before negotiations start. The North Korea foreign minister Ri Yong Ho just concluded a visit to Moscow when this program was recorded and conducted talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart.

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Have We Underestimated Kim Jong Un?

20 10 2017

Sputnik International - John Harrison(Sputnik International, Level Talk with John Harrison 13.10.2017) Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra joins the program and supplies a very different narrative from that of the mainstream media.

Dr. Petrov starts the program by stating that at the present time there seem to be no negotiations taking place. “Even when US Secretary of State Tillerson tried to enter into discussions with Jong Un, President Trump dismissed such attempts as being a waste of time. Attempts at dialogue finished in 2008 when the ‘6 Party Talks’ ended… I never thought that format was going to be a success because there were simply too many parties to come to a sensible agreement.”

The Obama administration did not wish to negotiate with N. Korea, Dr. Petrov says. “Obama refused to negotiate, preferring to wait until N. Korea falls to bits. There was nevertheless an attempt to negotiate, which led to an agreement, in February 2012 between Washington and Pyongyang. They basically agreed to improve bilateral relations, not only in terms of politician and diplomatic channels, but also in sports, academic, and humanitarian channels. But when N. Korea launched a rocket to celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong Un’s late grandfather, this deal was torpedoed as in firing this missile, N. Korea violated a UN agreement….If the Americans had been more sensitive to the fact that this happened during the first year in power of Kim Jong Un, the present situation would be very different.”

The underlying narrative that the West holds that Kim Jong Un is some kind of psychotic dictator is discussed. As Dr. Petrov points out that there is a real problem, as nobody wants to understand Kim Jong Un’s points of view: “Nobody talks to Kim Jong Un. China doesn’t like him. He was invited to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Kim Jong Un agreed initially but then refused after Obama and Merkel indicated that they would visit….Can you imagine the main Korean newspaper showing the Greatest of All Leaders standing next to other Heads of States. He has to constantly bolster his position through launches of ballistic missiles of different ranges. His attitude towards foreigners is that they should come to Pyongyang and kowtow and negotiate. But they refuse to do so.”

Understanding Kim Jong Un’s position, means understanding the legacy of colonialism in the region. Dr. Petrov explains: “N. Korea itself is a remnant of Cold War confrontation, and it is not just North and South Korea which is divided, but the whole of the region. There are no peace treaties, there are territorial disputes about international borders; some countries refuse to recognize each other, even though they have been represented in the UN for the last half century. What happened between North and South Korea is often recognized as a continuing war which started even before N. Korea attacked the South in 1950. Korea did not exist for 35 or 36 years when it was under Japanese colonial rule at the beginning of the 20th century; Japan was not only a problem for the Koreans but for the Chinese as well and there was an intention to unify [by Japan] the region against westerners. Now what North Koreas are doing is an attempt to replicate the Japanese Imperial Culture, when Japan was projecting itself as the leading force against western imperialism in the region. N. Korea is projecting itself as the bulwark of freedom and democracy against [what it perceives] western corrupt militaristic intentions to rule the world. We see that even Marxism-Leninism didn’t survive in N. Korea and was replaced by the so called ‘Juche’ self-reliance ideology which basically insists that N. Korea give up any attempt to integrate into the world economic system. N. Korea survived the collapse of the communist bloc, and did not suffer from the global, financial or Asian financial crises.”

As regards how the problem should be solved, Dr. Petrov suggests that we, the West should stop deceiving itself, and see that a country which has developed a nuclear weapon cannot undo its scientific progress. “Even if N. Korea were to dismantle its weapons it would be impossible to verify that N. Korea doesn’t have hidden away in the mountains somewhere a device or two, or a blueprint of a bomb with a couple of scientists who could recreate it within weeks. The only solution to this is what N. Korea is suggesting — a nuclear free world. This of course is impossible, but what the N. Korean leadership is suggesting is a comprehensive ban on nuclear warhead testing….They learnt the lesson of Libya; they understand that only with strong military deterrence they can ensure the survival of their regime. This is the most important thing for Kim Jong Un and his family and the 10,000 families around him who are loyal and supportive of the regime.”

I believe Kim Jong Un is a gift to President Trump, every time he launches something, people get distracted from what is going on in Washington DC….N. Korea and the US are locked into inter-dependence. The US needs a paper tiger. N. Korea is a small country which has nuclear weapons which cannot yet be mounted on rockets, but which definitely pose a threat to S. Korea, and other allies of the US, including Australia, who now feel the need to buy more sophisticated weapons to protect themselves against N. Korea, and the US is very willing to offer these very expensive and sophisticated anti-missile systems. ”

We appear to have underestimated Kim Jong Sun, probably we have never really tried. “The leaders of the countries that surround N. Korea all need Kim Jong Un for one reason or another; Kim Jong Un is keeping the show going. The region is paranoid, the region is really insecure, the region constantly lives in fear of war, and everyone understands that if there is a major shift in the balance of threat in N. Korea, it would open the gates to a tsunami of changes which may lead to a major shift in the balance of power, not only on the Korean peninsula but between China and Russia and the United States, which might start competing for geopolitical influence in the region.”

Listen to the full interview here…

Moment of truth coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’

29 05 2013

park-geun-hye-multiplyingby Leonid Petrov (Australian National University, 28 May 2013)

CANBERRA – Inter-Korean relations are in the lime-light again. On June 15, Koreans in the North and South were meant to celebrate another anniversary of their first historic summit, which took place in Pyongyang thirteen years ago. Nevertheless, the late South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il would have been very sad to see how their successors continue destroying the legacy of the Joint North-South Korean Declaration.

After the recent exchange of threats and muscle-flexing, the demise of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) came as a symbolic end of a once-blooming inter-Korean reconciliation. What is particularly disturbing is that this happens just months after newly-elected South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had pledged to implement a new North Korea policy.


Based on the two principles of ‘Trustpolitik’ and ‘Alignment’, Park’s strategy was supposed to be more pragmatic than Kim Dae-Jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ but less ideologically-driven than Lee Myung-Bak’s ‘Vision 3000’. Disappointingly, Park’s strategy for the normalization of inter-Korean relations was flawed from the outset.

She emphasized the promotion of cooperation in security, which is impossible in the context of the continuing Korean War. She also insisted that the trust building process would be linked to the progress in resolving the nuclear issue and, finally, Park outwardly declared that her goal was to encourage North Korea to become a “normal state”. Such a program certainly has no appeal for Pyongyang to be cooperative in its realization.

The last five years have shown that neither in Seoul nor in Pyongyang is there any appetite for cooperation. The zones of economic cooperation are now dead and buried; they were too expensive for South Korean entrepreneurs and too damaging for the North Korean regime.

Politically, North and South Korea continue to demonstrate disdain to each other. In April Seoul was “demanding” that Pyongyang negotiate the resumption of KIC operations by setting an ultimatum. In response, the North cut a military hot line connecting the two militaries on both sides of the DMZ. In reciprocation, Seoul has recently brushed off a North Korean offer to resume the Six-Party Talks.


Zero-sum game on the Korean peninsula is continuing. Whatever North Korea proposes is blocked by the South and vice versa. Pyongyang policy makers know all too well that the Blue House in Seoul will refuse their offers, regardless of how sensible or tempting they might sound.

Similarly, the conservative Saenuri Party does not want to look weak or manipulated by Pyongyang’s initiatives and will always find a reason to decline the offer. Interestingly, however, mistrust between politicians sometimes creates some rare windows of opportunity, which could lead to a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations.

No sooner did South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se call upon North Korea to make some steps to resume economic cooperation in Kaesong then Pyongyang proposed the return of South Korean managers to the ill-fated Industrial Complex. The South has all reason to fear the abduction or usage of its citizens for propaganda campaign, but this visit could be helpful in minimizing financial losses through the conservation of the abandoned facilities until times are better.

This informal meeting could also be used as a second track dialogue opportunity to improve the atmosphere for government-level negotiations. Will South Korea use this occasion to break the vicious circle of mistrust with North Korea? The moment of truth is coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’.

North Korea defiant as UN security council condemns rocket launch

29 01 2013

Image(by Tania Branigan in Beijing, The Guardian, 23 January 2013)

North Korea has vowed to strengthen its nuclear deterrent and other military capabilities after the United Nations security council condemned its latest rocket launch.

Analysts warned that the prospects of a third nuclear test by the regime had increased after its harsh response to the resolution, which extended sanctions against the North and expressed the council’s determination to take “significant action” against further missile or nuclear tests.

North Korea says it sent a satellite into orbit in December for peaceful and scientific purposes. But the council said it breached the ban on nuclear and missile activity, because the launch technology is near-identical to that required for long-range missiles.

China, which has veto rights as a permanent member of the council, agreed to Tuesday night’s resolution after sections were removed from an earlier draft. It has often blocked proposals for strengthened measures against its ally and neighbour in the past.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution “demonstrates to North Korea that there are unanimous and significant consequences for its flagrant violation of its obligations under previous resolutions”.

The security council reiterated its demand that the North cease further launches and end its nuclear weapons programme in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner”.

The angry response from Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said the North “should counter the US hostile policy with strength, not with words” and warned it would “bolster the military capabilities for self-defence including the nuclear deterrence”.

“There can be talks for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region in the future, but no talks for the denuclearisation of the peninsula,” it added.

The statement “considerably and strongly hints at the possibility of a nuclear test”, the analyst Hong Hyun-ik, of the private Sejong Institute thinktank near Seoul, told Associated Press.

The North tested nuclear devices shortly after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009, and last month the 38 North blog said analysis of satellite photos showed continued activity at a nuclear test site.

But Yang Moo-jin, of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told Reuters: “North Korea will likely take a sequenced strategy where the first stage response would be more militarily aggressive actions like another missile launch.”

Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the University of Sydney, said the resolution was “not helpful”.

He said: “It is just a sign of frustration. Diplomacy doesn’t work, military threats simply turn it into a worse situation, and nobody is prepared to give way in this standoff.”

He added: “Sticks without carrots do not work. A combination of sanctions with the prospect of engagement would be much more conducive to resolving the situation.

“North Korea does not want to abandon its nuclear programme. They have to develop it further, which means more tests … It looks like after the resolution, the nuclear test is now looming sooner rather than being postponed.”

He said there were hopes that Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s incoming president, would bring a “more pragmatic, less ideological and more stable” policy towards the North than that adopted by her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who ended Seoul’s “sunshine policy” of engagement and aid.

But Daniel Pinkston, the north-east Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group, warned that if a nuclear test went ahead, “any ideas or initiatives that she is thinking about or planning will pretty quickly become impossible”.

He added: “As far as sanctions achieving the intended outcome, I don’t see that happening. The people named are national heroes from the North Korean perspective.”

While Rice said the resolution introduced new sanctions, others argued it had only extended previous measures, so that more government bodies and individuals – such as the space agency and the man who runs it – will have their assets frozen and face a global travel ban.

Li Baodong, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, described the resolution as “generally balanced”, the state news agency Xinhua reported. He noted that measures which China believed would jeopardise normal trade had been removed.

He added: “Sanctions and resolutions alone do not work. Resolutions must be completed and supplemented by diplomatic efforts.”

The six-party aid for disarmament talks stalled in 2009 and a deal with the US – which would have placed a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for food – collapsed after the North carried out an unsuccessful rocket launch in April last year.

What should the Six Party Talks be about?

10 11 2012

I do not believe in success of the Six-Party-Talks because there are too many parties, their intentions are too different, and their approach is wrong. Since 2003, when this forum was convened for the first time, the five nations tried to persuade North Korea to disarm it unilaterally and unconditionally despite the fact that Korean War had not finished.

They also targeted the North Korea’s nuclear and space exploration programs, automatically denying the DPRK of the right to generate electricity and launch peaceful satellites.

Finally, after 2009, the US, ROK and Japan refused to participate in the Six-party-Talks, demanding from North Korea to demonstrate a “sincere approach”, which is impossible to measure or describe.

Instead, to be more productive in resolving the nuclear problem, the Six-Party-Talks should have first addressed the four crucial issues:

1. Replacing the 1953 armistice regime with a permanent peace treaty between the DPRK and ROK;

2. Achieving the diplomatic cross-recognition of the DPRK by the US and Japan (as it was done in the early 1990s by the USSR and PRC in relation to the ROK);

3. Offering a security assurance to the DPRK by the US;

4. Lifting all bi-lateral and multi-lateral trading sanctions imposed against the DPRK since 1950;

Then, naturally, there will be no need in demanding from North Korea to destroy its nuclear and space programs because there would be enough safeguards against nuclear proliferation or inappropriate usage of these technologies. Only then would people on the Korean peninsula and the region stop worrying about a new devastating conflict.

In other words, the Six-Party-Talks have been addressing the issues in the wrong order and from the wrong end. Was it done by mistake? For the answer, see my previous post about the Cold-War unity and struggle of the opposites in East Asia.

La Corée du Nord tenterait d’assouplir son image sur le dossier nucléaire pour obtenir une aide économique

29 08 2011

(Philippe Pons, Le Monde 28/08/2011) A la suite de sa visite en Sibérie, le dirigeant nord-coréen Kim Jong-il est passé, jeudi 25 août, en Chine du Nord-Est à bord de son train blindé. Selon l’agence Chine nouvelle, il doit faire dans cette région une « escale » sur le « chemin du retour ». Il n’a pas été précisé s’il aura des entretiens avec des dirigeants chinois.

Plusieurs projets de développement économiques conjoints entre la Chine et la République populaire démocratique de Corée (RPDC) sont en cours dans la région frontalière. C’est la quatrième visite en un an de Kim Jong-il en Chine.

D’éventuels entretiens avec les dirigeants chinois pourraient néanmoins apporter des éclaircissements sur les déclarations de Kim Jong-il en Russie. Selon la porte-parole du président Medvedev, celui-ci s’est déclaré prêt à une reprise sans conditions des pourparlers à six (Chine, deux Corées, Etats-Unis, Japon et Russie) sur la dénucléarisation de la RPDC et a proposé un moratoire sur les essais de missiles et les tests atomiques. […]

Une proposition trop vague

Selon Paik Haksoon, chercheur à l’Institut Sejong de Séoul, « le moratoire proposé par Pyongyang n’est pas le moratoire demandé par Séoul, Tokyo ou Washington comme préalable à une reprise des pourparlers, mais un élément de la négociation elle-même. Il n’en ouvre pas moins une fenêtre dans le processus de reprise de celle-ci ».

L’agence nord-coréenne de presse, KCNA, n’a pas mentionné la proposition de moratoire. Mais « le fait qu’elle a été annoncée au président Medvedev accroît sa crédibilité », estime Leonid Petrov, spécialiste de la RPDC à l’Université de Sydney. Séoul et Washington estiment que la proposition nord-coréenne est trop vague pour constituer « un progrès substantiel ». La question nucléaire nord-coréenne s’est encore compliquée depuis que le régime a annoncé, à la fin de l’année dernière, s’être doté, en plus de sa filière à base de plutonium, d’un programme d’enrichissement de l’uranium.

La Corée du Sud et les Etats-Unis craignent que Pyongyang ne veuille reprendre les négociations que pour obtenir une aide économique, dont le régime a impérieusement besoin. Kim Jong-il a promis qu’en 2012 – année du centième anniversaire de la naissance de son père, Kim Il-sung (mort en 1994) -, la RPDC entrera dans une nouvelle ère : celle d’un « pays fort et prospère ».

N. Korea Pledges Return to Nuke Talks

26 08 2011

 (Russia Today TV 24 Aug. 2011) North Korea is ready to return to the Six-Party negotiation table unconditionally and to do so, Kim Jong-il promised his country will impose moratorium on nuclear testing and nuclear weapons production. Presidential Press Secretary Natalia Timakova announced these results of the meeting on Wednesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his North Korean counterpart have met in the secluded military compound Sosnovy Bor (Pine Wood) on the outskirts of the capital of Republic of Buryatia, Ulan-Ude. The talks lasted for two hours and ten minutes.The leaders shook hands for protocol photos in the presence of press, then proceeded to negotiate behind closed doors. Few results were announced once the negotiations were over, including little information about the topics of discussion.

Surely, tense topics have been discussed during the meeting. Most likely the talks were focused on Six-Party Talks: North Korea withdrew from the Six-Party Talks (which include North and South Koreas, Russia, China, US and Japan) and continued with its nuclear experiments, defiant in its continuation of its nuclear program, predictably causing outrage not only within the Six Parties, but the whole of the international community.

The leaders reportedly agreed also to work together on a trilateral gas-supply project involving South Korea. President Medvedev announced he has set up a governmental committee which is to deal with this gas pipe-line transit project. He also assigned Alexey Miller, the head of Russia’s Gazprom, to “closely deal” with his counterparts in North and South Korea. The gas transit through the territory of DPRK is a very perspective project for the South Korean consumers, and for North Korea as well, Dmitry Medvedev stated after his meeting with Kim Jong-il. The project plans to cover an estimated 1,100 kilometers of pipelines and will have a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year. […]

­Eric Sirotkin, a co-founder of the National Campaign to End the Korean War, says Russia is in the perfect position to play a mediator role between North and South Korea. “Because of [Russia’s] closer relationship with the United States over the past years, because of the fact they are not seen as allied with North Korea as China,” he said. “Someone has to, as a world leader, stand up and say ‘This war has gone on for 60 years. There has been a change. The Cold War has ended, folks.’”

The fact that after nearly 10 years the leader of reclusive North Korea visits Russia and meets President Medvedev can only mean that something is changing – either inside North Korea or in Russia’s relation with it, considers Leonid Petrov, a lecturer in Korean Studies at the University of Sydney. The problem now is that North Korea has expressed a readiness to return to negotiating table and exchange something – probably its nuclear program – for some sort of aid, whereas the other parties of the Six-Side talks are reluctant to do so. “Probably it is time to restore balance between North Korea’s relations with Russia and China,” Petrov believes. In any case, “for Kim-Jong-il this is a good PR exercise to make sure that people still believe him,” Petrov said.

Signs of progress on Korean peninsula

1 08 2011

(ABC24 TV, 1 August 2011)

There’s been something of a breakthrough in the long-standing impasse over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang pulled out of the six-party talks on the issue more than two years ago and then let off another nuclear device. But after discussions between North and South Korea at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali last week US secretary of state Hillary Clinton invited a high ranking official from Pyongyang to visit the United States to break the ice. Leonid Petrov lectures in Korean studies at the University of Sydney.

JIM MIDDLETON: How optimistic are you about this announcement?

LEONID PETROV: Well any dialogue, any conversation, meeting and encounter is a positive development in the current state of affairs for north-east Asia in general and inter-Korean relations, US-North Korean relations in particular.

The problem is that if the talks about talks lead us only to the six-party talks where North Korea is expected to disarm unilaterally, I don’t think that we should be very optimistic because on many occasions Pyongyang insisted that it is not going to disarm unilaterally.

North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear program if the conditions are right. And among the conditions are the security assurance that North Korea is not going to be attacked, that no pre-emptive strike, no regime change is going to be exhorted upon this north-east Asian nation is going to be in place; as well as diplomatic recognition; as well as lifting of economic sanctions. That’s what North Korea is actually requesting in return for freezing and dismantling its nuclear program.

JIM MIDDLETON: The conditions that you see North Korea requiring from the United States if it were to abandon its nuclear weapons program, are they something that Washington might be willing to discuss with Pyongyang bilaterally? Is it also something that the Obama administration can sell to the US people with a presidential election looming?

LEONID PETROV: On many occasions the North Koreans called upon the United States to sign the peace treaty, to end the Korean War. The Clinton administration just before their tenure expired were prepared to even resume diplomatic relations with North Korea. Whether the Obama administration is ready go that far is not clear – probably not.

And your question is very legitimate. The Obama administration is facing major issues at home. As well as the major war that is going on in the Middle East and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq is all overshadows the developments in north-east Asia. So North Korea – the importance of North Korea should not be over-estimated.

JIM MIDDLETON: What would be the attitude of the other participants in the six-party talks, especially China, if the United States were to address this bilaterally?

LEONID PETROV: Well bilateralism is something what worries all the parties, all neighbours of Koreans. Once North Koreans start talking bilaterally to the Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Russians immediately get worried and concerned. None of the parties want to lose anything as a result of bilateral and secretive negotiations between any parties. And that’s why the six-party talks format was introduced, just to avoid any major development. The status quo is something what all parties actually prefer more or less.

Although probably Russia is the only country which would genuinely would love to see Koreas reunify or at least peacefully co-exist. All other parties have their own conflicting agendas.

JIM MIDDLETON: A final question: Does North Korea have any reasons beyond the fact that it is desperately short of food and needs food aid, for agreeing to reopen discussions with the United States at this moment?

LEONID PETROV: North Korea is going through the succession transitional process where the top leader Kim Jong-il is obviously preparing the heir to rule the country sooner or later. It’s not going to happen soon, or at least as long as Kim Jong-il is alive. We know that difficult economic circumstances, the man-made and natural disasters which have been hitting North Korea for the last two decades left the population rather angry and desperate.

So some sort of major breakthrough in relations with the United States first of all would definitely be supportive and helpful for the current regime. And we know there is no elections, there is no democratic feedback from the, between the government and the population. But some positive news in improvement relations with the United States first of all would be very positive development for the regime, for the leaders.

And diplomatic recognition, security assurance and economic assistance from the United States is crucial for North Korea’s survival.

Read and watch this interview here…