There are some interesting notes from North Korea’s capital. A senior US envoy will hold talks next week in Beijing with North Korea, resuming a dialogue put on hold last year by the death of leader Kim Jong-Il, the State Department said Monday. Glyn Davies, the coordinator for US policy in North Korea, will meet in Beijing on February 23 with North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. The United States has been exploring a resumption of six-nation de-nuclearization talks with North Korea but has insisted that Pyongyang respect a 2005 agreement at the talks to give up its atomic weapons. “This is a continuation of the meetings that we’ve been having with North Korea to see if it is prepared to fulfill its commitment (under six-way talks) and its international obligations as well as to take concrete steps towards de-nuclearization,” Nuland said.
The United States held two rounds of talks with North Korea last year in New York and Geneva in hopes of keeping open a dialogue, despite deep skepticism in Washington on whether the communist state will ever give up its weapons. A third round was scheduled for Beijing in December but was called off after the sudden death of Kim, which left the isolated and nuclear-armed country in the hands of his untested young son Kim Jong-Un. Before the planned last round, the United States had been discussing a request by North Korea to resume food assistance. The country suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s and aid groups have voiced concern about new shortages.
According to analysts in South Korea, the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang was initially conceived as the unbeatable hand in a game of one- upmanship with Seoul. As the South prepared to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, its capital underwent a high-rise boom that included construction of a 63-story, gold-clad building that was the highest in Asia. North Korea countered with the Ryugyong, almost 200 feet higher. At the time, the two economies weren’t so far apart, and the North — with aid flowing in from the Soviet Union — could afford occasional big spending projects. But the Soviet collapse in 1991 ended the flow of funds and also left the North short of raw materials.
Over the years, the North tried several times to revive the project, once even turning to the South. In 2005, the South Korean port city of Incheon planned to host the Asian Athletics Championship, and the South wanted North Korean participation. The North bargained, saying it would send its athletes — if Incheon funded the Ryugyong. So a 100-person team from Incheon flew to Pyongyang for meetings. “The North Koreans made it very clear that Kim Jong Il and other top officials considered this renovation a priority,” said Park Kil-sang, a liaison in the negotiations. “But it looked like a huge cement mountain, and it showed the wear of 20 years of just sitting there untouched. We actually figured it would be better to break it down entirely and build a new hotel from scratch.”
After the Incheon deal fell apart, Orascom agreed in 2008 to begin renovations. Construction workers affixed mirrored glass to the structure, and the building’s conical point came to look like a pen’s silver cap. Finally, one day, the crane disappeared. “It was the middle of 2009,” said Cockerell, who was in Pyongyang at the time. “It was a very foggy day, and you couldn’t even see the top of the building. But you could hear very loud helicopter noises. Very loud, and that’s not common in Pyongyang. About an hour later, the fog cleared, and there was no more crane on that hotel. Everybody was just staring at it. “It was a bit like when my dad shaved his beard off,” he added. “It was a very weird vibe.”