Former United States Ambassador to Korea and current Chairman of the Pacific Century Institute Donald Gregg arrived in North Korea leading a delegation of four on Monday. Gregg’s visit comes as North Korea withdrew its invitation for Robert King, the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, who was expected to negotiate Kenneth Bae’s release. However, the delegation’s visit is part of ongoing diplomacy with Pyongyang and not specifically intended to discuss Bae.
The four-man delegation from the Pacific Century Institute (PCI) arrived at Pyongyang-Sunan International Airport in North Korea Monday on the latest visit in an ongoing process of Track II diplomacy between PCI and North Korea. The delegation does not represent the United States government and are in North Korea as private citizens. The Los Angles-based PCI is a non-profit organization focused on the Pacific Rim, especially the Korean Peninsula. PCI seeks to improve relations between Pacific Rim nations through dialogue and education. The delegation will be in Pyongyang until Friday and return to Los Angeles via Beijing and Seoul.
One of PCI’s biggest initiatives is to engage North Korea in ongoing dialogue as unofficial representatives of the U.S. in order to improve their relationship and keep channels of communication open. This type of Track II diplomacy – diplomacy by private citizens or organizations not officially representing a government – is common between the U.S. and the DPRK, who have no formal diplomatic relations.
PCI spokesman Prof. Thomas Plate told NK News that Gregg’s delegation – which includes PCI founding member Spencer H. Kim and former U.S. Congressman Pete McCloskey – has no specific plans to discuss Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American who has been imprisoned in the North since November 2012 on charges of plotting to overthrow the regime. However, no issue is on or off the agenda for this visit and all issues of mutual interest may be discussed, so Bae may still come up. Plate said that PCI members such as Gregg and Kim have made similar visits to North Korea over the years.
Donald Gregg previously worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency before becoming U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) from 1989-1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He was then president of the Korea Society before becoming chairman of PCI.
Like many former government officials who engaged in Track II diplomacy with the North, Gregg is said to be well respected in Pyongyang. PCI spokesman Plate told NK News that while in the CIA, Gregg “was involved in an effort to save the life of Kim Dae-jung,” the South Korean President responsible for the Sunshine Policy of peaceful engagement and economic assistance to the North.
During the 1970s, when Gregg was CIA station chief in Seoul, Kim was an outspoken opponent of the virulently anti-communist administration of South Korean President Park Chung-hee and was arrested and even once kidnapped from Japan by the Korean CIA before finally becoming president in 1998. A man who saved the life of Kim Dae-jung is likely seen by Pyongyang as indirectly responsible for Kim’s eventual triumph over the military-backed anti-North right wing of South Korean politics and for the implementation of the Sunshine Policy.
Pyongyang has a history of preferring to talk with former officials from the U.S. for whom they have some degree of respect or affinity, such as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton or former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Picture: The KCNA
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