SEOUL (AFP) — North Korea's decision to host a historic concert by the New York Philharmonic is a victory for moderates over hardliners in the communist state, a former US ambassador to Seoul said Thursday.
Donald Gregg, who visited Pyongyang for Tuesday's concert and had talks with the North's nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan, said a debate was going on between supporters and opponents of opening up the isolated state.
"The camp of those favouring opening up and moderation has been greatly strengthened," he told a forum organised by the American Chamber of Commerce.
Evans Revere, president of the Korea Society who helped organise the unprecedented visit, said that while in Pyongyang, he and Gregg "had a profound sense that something in the air is changing."
He said there was a "sense of history being made," with the North Koreans seeing a very different face of America compared to previous decades.
"I hope what we have done here is show both sides what the possibility is in terms of a relationship," said Revere, a former senior Seoul-based US diplomat.
Revere said he believes one aim of the North in hosting the concert "is to send a message to the world that North Korea is prepared to deal with it in a more normal way."
A six-nation nuclear disarmament deal is currently at an impasse over the North's reluctance to make a full declaration of its atomic programmes.
Both men said they urged North Korean officials to take advantage of the Bush administration's change to a more conciliatory policy, and not to wait for the next president before making progress on the deal.
Gregg recalled his meeting with Kim Kye-Gwan in 2002, the year in which a previous disarmament deal collapsed and US President George W. Bush labelled North Korea part of an "axis of evil."
He said Kim had asked how the United States could function as a country when one president's approach was so different from another's. Kim had also asked how the United States "can be so colossally ignorant of what makes us tick," Gregg said.
"All these questions are still very much in the air. There is not sufficient trust."
Revere said he believed the centerpiece of North Korean policy was to seek imporoved relations with Washington.
He called for attempts to open a dialogue channel with its reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il, the only person who could make the "critical strategic decision" to abandon nuclear weapons.
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