Friday, September 9, 2005

North Korea wants just a little respect (?)

A few months ago, Nora Sumi Park hypothesized that North Korea was "like a gangsta rapper trying to get some respect." Well, news this week may be backing up her theory: it turns out that Pyongyang is trying to get a high-level Bush Administration official, especially someone of Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice's caliber, to pay a visit.

The kicker is that in exchange for that visit, Pyongyang will return the USS Pueblo, the American spy ship captured by North Korea on January 23, 1968. US Navy records indicate the ship was in international waters but North Korea insists it was in their territorial waters. The ensuing attack led to the death of Duane Hodges.

The other eighty-two crew members were held captive and tortured for eleven months. They were finally released through the DMZ on Christmas Eve that year. This was when the Vietnam War was in full swing, and Washington was not in the best position to launch an attack that might have led to a second full-scale war.

The ship is now on display along the Taedong River in Pyongyang (the site of a historic Choson-American clash in the 19th century), where it is used as a tourist attraction to demonstrate the superiority of the Juche-led DPRK over the corrupt and decadent giant known as the US of A.

The nuclear issue and North Korean human rights remain far more important issues, but the US Navy and especially those involved in the Pueblo incident see this as no insignificant manner. After all, the Pueblo was the first US ship to be captured since 1807.

North Korea presented the offer to former US ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg, who visited North Korea in mid-August. It's not certain if the plan is going anywhere, though. Mr. Gregg says: "It would be a gesture, but somebody needs to make a gesture." Gregg told the State Department about his discussions, but a department official said there are no plans for a high-level visit to North Korea.

If the North Korean regime is willing to give up such a prime piece of propaganda, one has to wonder what (if anything) this gesture might mean. Are they, for example, making plans to ratchet down the anti-American rhetoric in anticipation of, let's say, diplomatic ties with Washington?

And if Pyongyang's leadership really is all about security assurances, and mutual respect in the form of a high-level visit is one way of providing security assurances, would it be a wasted opportunity to NOT take this opportunity to pay a visit to the DPRK?

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