The American policy of eschewing one-on-one negotiations with the North Korean dictatorship was secretly ignored last year, as two missions in April and August were launched to convince Kim Jong Il’s son and successor, Kim Jong Un, to move away from its extremist positions. Unsurprisingly to everyone but the Obama administration and its foreign policy supporters, those trips proved fruitless.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, responded in an email, brusquely, "I'm not going to comment on this." Sydney Seiler, who is in charge of Korea policy at the National Security Council and attended both April and August’s meetings, could not be reached for comment.
Just this month, North Korea launched its third and most powerful underground nuclear test.
Last year’s April visit was designed to convince Kim Jong Un not to use long-range rockets. Pyongyang launched a rocket unsuccessfully on April 12, but followed with a successful launch in December.
Joseph DeTrani, a North Korea expert who ran the National Counter Proliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, led the April trip. He no longer works for the government; he now runs the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. He defended the trip, asserting, "I was initially guardedly optimistic that [Kim Jong Un] was moving in the right direction. With the launches and the test, he's reversed that."
But Gen. Kim Kyok-Sik, who was later appointed defense minister by Kim Jong Un, was alleged to be the one who ordered the 2010 shelling of a South Korean island killing four people, and also an attack on a South Korean naval ship that killed 46 sailors.
Some experts also defended the trips; John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University, said, "The trips were a good idea and I think the fact that they did them secretly was a good idea." One former U.S. official agreed: "I don't know why at this point the administration just doesn't set the record straight on this. All it shows is that we were trying to walk the last mile with North Korea."
Strangely enough, congressional intelligence and foreign affairs committees were never briefed on the visits.