A former State Department official who maintains contact with North Korea said U.S. dealings with that country have been hampered by missteps and lack of a coherent policy. 'You can't get anywhere without a clear roadmap, and we don't have one,' said Kenneth Quinones, who served as State Department liaison with North Korea's U.N. mission between 2004 and 2006.
He said a promising effort last year to resume six-party nuclear disarmament talks fell by the wayside when President Bush referred to North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Il as a 'tyrant.' The North Koreans told U.S. officials, 'We're not coming back until the president stops the criticism.'
Weeks later, he said, there was fresh progress toward a new round, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld soured the atmosphere when he announced stealth fighter planes were being sent to South Korea.
Talks were finally resumed in Beijing in September 2005, and the session ended with a breakthrough communique that included broad agreement on a number of issues, including a North Korean commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons. But the good feelings dissipated within 48 hours, Quinones said, when a dispute erupted over whether North Korea should receive light water reactors before carrying out nuclear disarmament.
He said mistrust has permeated the U.S.-North Korean relationship. 'The North Koreans don't want to negotiate with a government they do not comprehend,' he said. 'They found that the rules constantly changed.'
Mistrust 'can be devastating to diplomacy,' he said.