Before he left the White House, the US leader gave an interview to the South Korean news agency Yonhap. In it, he said, “President Lee and I have established a very strong working relationship, which I think is quite evident in our close coordination on global issues, particularly on North Korea. So let me first start with your question on North Korea.”
However, the friendly tone could not mask the fact that relations between the two leaders soured a bit last month when President Lee announced his “grand bargain” proposal for the two Koreas and the United States. Caught off guard, the Obama administration blamed a “misunderstanding” as the president stressed the need to build a bridge.
Seoul is a key US ally against Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The US president’s high-level envoy to North Korea, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, has extensively consulted with South Korean government officials before travelling to Pyongyang.
Citing diplomatic sources, the Hankyoreh newspaper said that sending the envoy was a good move it welcomed. Bilateral contacts between Pyongyang and Washington should not be hindered because they are way to overcome the impasse.
State Department sources have made it clear that “no substantial negotiations will take place bilaterally to resolve the nuclear crisis and the contact will be focused on persuading the North to return to the six-nation talks,” involving China, Russia, United States, Japan and the Koreas.
In the past, the presidents of the United States and South Korea faced the issue from two different perspectives. Hence, Obama’s visit is crucial.
For Yonhap, the two presidents are “pragmatists, putting practical gains before ideology. Furthermore, the two countries have walked in step on North Korea policy so far. If Lee and Obama can share opinions frankly, the two governments will certainly strengthen their relationship. That is the most effective way to resolve the nuclear crisis on the peninsula.”