US spy chief James Clapper's rare insight into N Korean diplomacy

The US intelligence chief who flew to North Korea on a secret mission to free two Americans said there is "the potential for change" in the secretive state, in a rare window into the murky world of Pyongyang diplomacy.

AFP| Last Updated: Nov 15, 2014, 09:14 AM IST

Washington: The US intelligence chief who flew to North Korea on a secret mission to free two Americans said there is "the potential for change" in the secretive state, in a rare window into the murky world of Pyongyang diplomacy.

US director of National Intelligence James Clapper made the observation as he recounted in detail his trip last week that brought home the detained Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.

In an interview published Friday by The Wall Street Journal, Clapper offers a rare insight into the behind-the-scenes machinations of North Korean diplomacy under the little-known leadership of the young Kim Jong-Un.

In an exhaustive account of his whistle-stop one-day trip to the North Korean capital, Clapper -- the only US intelligence official ever invited to the communist North -- says his hosts seemed disappointed when he arrived without a broader peace overture in hand.

But they did not ask for anything specific in return for the American prisoners` release, according to Clapper, who told the WSJ that he heard a far more "tempered" tone from a younger North Korean whom he described as an interlocutor.

The official, who accompanied Clapper on the drive back to the airport at the end of the mission, expressed regret that North and South Korea remained split and asked Clapper if he would return to Pyongyang.

"I said if I got an invitation I certainly would," he recounted.

Clapper, who said there were moments during his visit when he thought he would have to return to the United States without the detained duo, told the newspaper he saw hope in that conversation.

"I do think there is the potential here for change and dialogue in the future."

The young Kim, whose exact age remains unclear, could side with his generation instead of the older cadres that serve as his closest advisors, said Clapper.

The release of Bae and Miller came hot on the heels of the liberation of another detained US national in North Korea, Jeffrey Fowle, in October. Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.

Clapper`s mission was kept secret out of fear that publicity could scuttle the deal for Bae and Miller.

"They (North Korean officials) were expecting some big breakthrough," Clapper told the WSJ.

He said officials thought "I was going to offer some big deal, I don`t know, a recognition, a peace treaty, whatever."

"Of course, I wasn`t there to do that, so they were disappointed, I`ll put it that way."

Clapper also dined out with officials in the reclusive nation, enjoying a 12-course meal at a downtown Pyongyang restaurant hosted by North Korea intelligence chief Kim Young Chol.

"It was delicious," Clapper said of the meal, which included seafood, chicken, salad and kimchi and beer and wine.

"I just wish we`d had a more relaxed conversation than we had."