Sankei led with the disclosure by several GOJ sources that persons connected to the USG including John Merrill, the former chief of INR’s Northeast Asia Division at the State Department, met secretly with North Korean officials in Beijing in early December and may have discussed conditions for the resumption of bilateral dialogue and what form it should take. The session took place in the form of a “track 1.5” dialogue attended by government officials and private-sector experts. The daily also claimed that according to the same sources, during a security dialogue between Canada and Japan held in Ottawa in early December, Canadian representatives urged Tokyo to ease its pressure on the North and underscored the importance of dialogue by saying: “Pressure alone is problematic. It may trigger an unforeseen development…. We must negotiate with North Korea. We’ve been discussing this with the U.S. government.”
Noting that Secretary of State Tillerson mentioned “unconditional dialogue” with Pyongyang in his speech on Dec. 12 soon after these two developments, the daily suspected that a pro-dialogue camp within the Trump administration led by DOS diplomats is trying hard to seize the initiative in establishing communications with North Korea. The daily wrote that the Canadian government will host a UN Command ministerial meeting on North Korea in Vancouver on Jan. 16, projecting that since Secretary Tillerson is the primary advocate of this conference, the pro-dialogue bloc is likely to lead the discussions. The paper added that the conference might not make much progress due to the schism between the pro-dialogue camp and the hardliners.