North Korean chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan was mobbed by reporters on arrival in New York on Tuesday. Kim is in the U.S. for talks with U.S. officials about the future of stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
No U.S. government bodyguards were there to fend off the press when Kim emerged from arrivals at JFK Airport, in sharp contrast to four years ago, when he was escorted by so many bodyguards that he was said to have been accorded the protocol usually reserved for foreign Cabinet members.
In March 2007, when Kim visited San Francisco and New York, the U.S. State Department led Kim from the tarmac straight to a complimentary limousine and provided him with around-the-clock security.
But on Tuesday, Sin Son-ho, the North Korean ambassador to the UN, scuffled with reporters to make way for Kim. In 2007 Kim was a humble vice minister, but has now been promoted to first vice minister.
Pundits believe the change in protocol was premeditated. Back in 2007, after a crushing defeat in mid-term elections, the Bush administration rapidly turned conciliatory toward Pyongyang and, needed to curry favor with the Stalinist country in an attempt to notch up a palpable diplomatic achievement.
This year, Washington is merely trying to deter North Korea from further provocations but is reluctant to give the impression that it is going to make any concessions soon.
Kim appeared unflustered as he answered every question from reporters. Asked about the prospects of U.S.-North Korea relations or the six-party talks, he said, "I'm optimistic. Now is the time when all countries in the world should reconcile with each other and live together."
The goal of his visit, he said, is to "maintain regional peace and stability and move towards denuclearization through the six-party talks."