A U.S. embassy spokesman on Monday denied a report by South Korea’s biggest daily that the State Department has stationed an employee in Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for opening a permanent liaison office in North Korea.
The State Department has an employee in Pyongyang but only to manage equipment for a team that is overseeing the disablement of North Korea’s nuclear facilities. The employee will be in the North through the disablement process.
“This is not for normalisation,” spokesman Max Kwak said.
There has been a rise in exchanges between the two countries after reclusive North Korea agreed this year to a multinational deal to freeze and then roll back its nuclear arms programme in return for massive aid and better international standing.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted an unnamed source in Washington as saying: “A U.S. State Department diplomat who handles administrative affairs has checked into a room in Koryo Hotel and has been using it as an office and accommodation.”
The State Department employee has been acting as an administrative liaison between the United States and North Korea, the source said.
The Koryo is one of the few hotels in Pyongyang open to foreign guests.
The United States has said if North Korea completely ends its nuclear weapons programme, Washington is willing to establish diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
U.S. Diplomat ‘Permanently’ Stationed in Pyongyang
Choson Ilbo (h/t One Free Korea)
A U.S. diplomat has been stationed permanently at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang since mid-November, a source said Sunday. The development comes as U.S.-North Korea relations are improving as Pyongyang implements its promise to disable its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon by the end of the year.
A source in Washington said that the U.S. plans to dispatch another permanent diplomat to Pyongyang soon, with the Koryo Hotel likely to serve as a de facto U.S. liaison office in North Korea. This is the first time the U.S. has ever stationed a permanent diplomat in Pyongyang, and it suggests the possible normalization of relations between the two sides.
The Washington source said, “A foreign service officer in charge of administrative affairs from the U.S. State Department has been staying at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, using his room as both an office and living quarters. He is mainly carrying out administrative liaison efforts between the U.S. and North Korea.”
The diplomat is apparently serving as a liaison officer for U.S. delegations to Pyongyang and figuring out their staying expenses there. The temporary U.S. office at the Koryo Hotel is said to be fitted out with exclusive telephone and fax lines and a computer with an Internet connection.
The U.S. is expected to dispatch a senior diplomat to Pyongyang who will handle political affairs when North Korea completes the disablement of its nuclear facilities. This senior diplomat will also participate in talks with Pyongyang and visit the nuclear sites at Yongbyon on a non-regular basis to inspect the progress of the disablement and dismantlement of the facilities.
Washington and Pyongyang agreed on this through meetings between chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan and through “a channel in New York,” the source said.
The U.S. is expected to operate its temporary office in Pyongyang with a staff of two diplomats for the time being, with a view to upgrading the office to a regular liaison office or a permanent mission if North Korea clearly shows its intention to fully dismantle its nuclear programs.
The agreement to operate a de facto U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang suggests that the two sides strongly intend to improve their relations. Washington and Pyongyang agreed at the 1994 Geneva Accords to open a liaison office in Pyongyang upon concluding talks on the first North Korean nuclear crisis, but that agreement was never realized.