Pro-dialogue U.S. officials are reportedly very suspicious of the source and the motive behind the information leak from Tokyo that secret U.S.-North Korea talks took place in Beijing in early December amid a growing trend in favor of resolving the DPRK’s nuclear arms and missile issues through dialogue.
On Jan. 4, Sankei Shimbun printed a story with the headline “U.S. proponents of conciliatory policy toward North Korea fighting back?” reporting on the convening of a track 1.5 dialogue, which falls between government-level talks and dialogue between private citizens. None of the participants on either side were named and only John Merrill, former head of the Northeast Asia Division of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State, was cited as the mediator. It was a curious report. Merrill doubts the effectiveness of sanctions against North Korea and is known to be a proponent of a conciliatory policy toward North Korea.
While Sankei, which is close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was the first to report on the U.S.-DPRK talks this time, the information was shared by several media outlets. The source is reckoned to be a Kantei official. Therefore, Merrill seems to suspect that the Abe administration leaked the information in an attempt to obstruct the dialogue policy.
The U.S. and North Korea have been in contact on several occasions since last year. The latest talks also did not involve anything that merited reporting on a newspaper’s front page. Therefore, the prevailing view among pro-dialogue U.S. officials is that Abe tried to sabotage the conciliatory policy in order to maintain support for him based on the North Korea crisis in the run-up to the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election in the fall.