February 25, 2024

Mongolia’s tango with Pyongyang

Ulan Bator’s partnerships, diplomacy offer the U.S. some lessons in North Korea policy

On May 23 Mongolia provided North Korea and the United States neutral ground in its capital for track 1.5 meetings. Presumably, North Korea’s chief nuclear envoy met with two former U.S. State Department officials to discuss resumption of the Six Party Talks, which have been at a complete standstill since 2009. Ulan Bator has been keen on normalizing Pyongyang’s fractious relations with its adversaries and assist its Soviet-era ally in implementing economic reform. In this way, Mongolia has unveiled an alternative strategy that could incrementally reconfigure Pyongyang’s behavior, offering the U.S. some lessons for its failing North Korea policy.

As a Soviet satellite, Mongolia was the second country to recognize North Korea, and sheltered more than 200 orphans who lost their families during the Korean War. Ulan Bator continued its charitable moves after its democratic transition, delivering food aid numerous times during North Korea’s hardships in the 1990s. Even though bilateral relations made a downturn after Mongolia’s post-communist strategic swung towards South Korea (Ulan Bator stepped up its trade with Seoul during the 1990s), they were revamped in 2002 after North Korean Foreign Minister Nam Sun Park made the first high-level visit to Mongolia in 14 years.