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Profile: Li Gun
Li Gun was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Bush administration opens brief, futile negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). Chief negotiator Jim Kelly goes to Beijing to prepare for multilateral talks with North Korea, Japan, China, and South Korea. However, Kelly is crippled by specific instructions on how to deal with the North Koreans. He is not even allowed to speak with the North Korean delegates unless the other countries’ delegates are also present. During the negotiations, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister Li Gun, an experienced negotiator, says that his country now has nuclear weapons—calling them a “deterrent”—and says the weapons will not be given up unless the US drops its “hostile attitude” (see March 2003-May 2003) towards the regime. Stripping away the rhetoric, the North Koreans are offering to disarm if the US will sign a non-aggression pact. Kelly returns to Washington and announces a “bold, new proposal” from the North Koreans. But President Bush dismisses the proposal, expressing his feelings in his words to a reporter: “They’re back to the old blackmail game.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write, “This was the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line: As long as the North Koreans were pursuing nuclear weapons, even to sit down with them would be ‘appeasement,’ succumbing to ‘blackmail,’ and ‘rewarding bad behavior.’” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Bush administration officials refuse to discuss any specifics until North Korea agrees to scrap its nuclear program. They also refuse to talk directly with the North Korean officials, instead insisting that the Chinese delegation pass along their demands. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans walk out of the meeting. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240-241]
The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185-186]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Lou Dubose, Fred Kaplan, George W. Bush, Jake Bernstein, Jim Kelly, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Pritchard, Clinton administration, National Security Council, John R. Bolton, Li Gun, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kim Jong Il
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
The Bush administration’s chief envoy to Southeast Asia, Christopher Hill, finally manages to make some progress in the ongoing six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003), largely by evading and ducking Bush administration restrictions on his negotiations. Hill is under orders not to open two-party talks with North Korea unless the North agrees to make significant concessions. (In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will observe, “Perversely, the Bush administration was offering negotiations in exchange for changed behavior, rather than using negotiations to change behavior; they had reversed the standard cause and effect of diplomacy.”) Hill persuades the North Koreans to return to the talks by arranging a dinner in Beijing for him and his North Korean counterpart, Li Gun. The Chinese hosts “fail” to show up, and Hill is left to dine with Gun alone. The North Koreans, happy with this “bilateral negotiation,” agree to rejoin the talks. Hill is unaware that Bush administration conservatives are planning to scuttle the negotiations (see September 19-20, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 244] The talks will officially reopen on July 25, 2005. [BBC, 12/2007]
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