U.S. officials are known to have paid a secret visit to North Korea in August, the second after one made by a Washington official in April just before Pyongyang test-fired a long-range rocket.
A diplomatic source on Wednesday said a U.S. Air Force plane departed from Guam on Aug. 17 and entered Pyongyang via a Yellow Sea route. “The plane stayed in Pyongyang for four days before leaving the North on Aug. 20,” said the source, adding that the route taken was the same as in April.
While the April visit was a one-day trip, the one in August was for four days. Speculation is rising that the U.S. might have had in-depth negotiations with the North before the U.S. presidential election Nov. 6.
“There is a high possibility that the U.S. tried to prevent the North from making an armed provocation ahead of the November presidential election and made a proposal corresponding to it,” the source said.
The comment indicated that the Obama administration maintained a dialogue channel with Pyongyang to manage North Korea risk in consideration of the adverse impact an additional nuclear test or long-range rocket launch could have on the election.
North Korea had remained quiet for three months since August but resumed making provocative moves as soon as the U.S. election was over. North Korea relocated long-range rocket parts from a weapons research center in Pyongyang to its missile base in Tongchang-ri on the west coast. Analysts say the North is in the final stage of preparing for a long-range rocket launch possibly in an attempt to affect South Korea’s presidential election Dec. 19.
The Yellow Sea route that the U.S. Air Force plane used was the same as the one taken in 2000 by then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung on his way to Pyongyang for the first inter-Korean summit. For the U.S. plane to enter Pyongyang via a Yellow Sea route, it had to go through the (South) Korea Air Defense Identification Zone, exposing its track to South Korean radar.
Because of this, the U.S. had to consult South Korea before making such a visit. Unlike in April, the U.S. was known to have informed China of the August visit in advance.
Though who visited the North in August remains unknown, they were from the National Security Council of the White House rather than from the U.S. State Department to give more weight to the secret negotiations.
Speculation has it that the delegation included Daniel Russell, the council`s director for Asian affairs, and Sydney Seiler, director of the council`s Korea division. Seiler specialized in North Korea at the CIA and learned to speak fluent Korean at Yonsei University in Seoul.