Shortly after a 2012 nuclear deal with Pyongyang, the United States had asked North Korea's chief nuclear envoy to meet bilaterally with his South Korean counterpart, according to a newly released email of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clifford Hart, then U.S. special envoy for six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, made the request during a phone call with North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador Han Song-ryol, days after the two sides reached a food aid-for-denuclearization steps agreement.
Notifying Han of the U.S. decision to grant a visa for Pyongyang's nuclear envoy and Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho's visit to New York, Hart requested that Ri meet with Seoul's chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam set to attend the same conference as Ri, according to the email.
"I told Han that the U.S. government's decision to approve a visa for Ri's visit was a concrete demonstration of Washington's intent to take steps to advance the relationship now that there was agreement on the denuclearization pre-steps," Hart said in a March 4 email to Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy.
Hart also told Han that should Pyongyang's Ri and Seoul's Lim meet and if the atmosphere in U.S.-North Korea relations remained positive, it was likely that the U.S. government would consider positively sending him and National Security Council Korea director Sydney Seiler to New York for a subsequent meeting with Ri.
Han promised to convey the message to Pyongyang immediately, according to the email.
The U.S. request was seen as part of U.S. efforts to put denuclearization pressure on Pyongyang jointly with South Korea. But the proposed meeting between Ri and Lim did not happen after all, a decision seen as reflecting Pyongyang's intention to sideline Seoul and deal directly with the U.S.
Under the Feb. 29, 2012, deal, also known as the "Leap Day" agreement, the U.S. promised to provide 240,000 tons of food aid in exchange for the North taking a series of denuclearization "pre-steps," such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
But the deal unraveled just weeks later as the North flouted it with a long-range rocket launch.
The six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean standoff have been stalled since late 2008. North Korea demands the unconditional resumption of negotiations, while the U.S. says that Pyongyang must first take concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitments. (Yonhap)