North Korea’s ambassador to Cambodia has suggested that Cambodia could play a role in finding a diplomatic solution to escalating conflict on the Korean peninsula.
In an interview with local English-language newspaper The Khmer Times, Ambassador Jang Yun Gon said he was confident that Cambodia “really understands” the situation “and would express solidarity through Asean towards our just cause to help find a solution diplomatically to maintain stability and peace in our country.”
“We value this relationship with Cambodia and we want to maintain and strengthen it. This relationship will be based on the interests of the people in both countries,” he added.
The testing of ballistic missiles by North Korea prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to drop its “strategic patience” and consider “all options” in response to what it considers North Korean “defiance”.
The North’s foreign minister, Ri Su-yong, has said that the “grave situation” and the arrival of a U.S. Warship in the region has pushed the nations to the brink of war, according to Agence France Presse.
The overture from North Korea to Cambodia and its Asean allies came as Trump made his first approach to the 10-nation bloc with direct phone calls to the U.S.’s traditional allies in the region.
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said the decision about whether to take a mediating role in the dispute would be made by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“If North Korea is seeking Cambodia’s participation in talks, that would be Cambodia’s stance,” Siphan said. “We always want parties to negotiate”.
He added that if a formal request was made to the Cambodian government, he believed Hun Sen would want to play a role.
The North Korean embassy and Cambodia’s foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on North Korea's request, referring to the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's statement last week at the U.N. Security Council.
Chairing the global council on security, Tillerson called for all countries with ties to North Korea to "suspend or downgrade" relations.
“We call on countries to suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations with North Korea. North Korea exploits its diplomatic privileges to fund its illicit nuclear and missile technology programs, and constraining its diplomatic activity will cut off a flow of needed resources,” Tillerson said.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said, “With North Korea's isolation and ostracism, it will take all the friends it can get.”
“If North Korea signals its intent for dialogue, ASEAN must provide the opening. This can defuse geopolitical tensions and make ASEAN immediately useful and strategic,” Pongsudhirak added.
Sok Touch, director of the International Relations Institute at the state-run Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Cambodia could use its influence with the Koreas to act as a successful intermediary.
“Cambodia would not talk about nuclear or not. Cambodia can be a coordinator. Cambodia can woo either North Korea or the Five Parties (South Korea, Japan, China, U.S., and Russia). But the matter of whether or not Cambodia can assume the role is up to the Five Parties,” he said.
Julio A. Jeldres, counsel to the cabinet of King Norodom Sihamoni, told VOA Khmer in an email that he saw “little lasting benefit” for Cambodia to play the suggested role.
“I am not sure what Cambodia can do to help. I believe China is better positioned to strongly influence North Korea because of their ideological, diplomatic and large commercial links,” he said.
“Apart from the modest international prestige of serving as a mediator, Cambodia has little to gain in practical terms. If, by some stroke of serendipity, Cambodian intervention results in a return to the Six-Party Talks, Cambodia could gain international clout as an effective intermediary,” he added.
Cambodia-North Korea diplomatic relations began in 1967 when the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia and North Korea’s founding President Kim Il Sung formed a personal friendship.
The North Korean government in 1974 built a personal palace for Sihanouk in Pyongyang, while North Korea was granted the Samran Phirom royal residence in Cambodia, where Sihanouk was born in 1922, to serve as its embassy.
Cambodia is now one of the North Korea’s few friends in Asean, which has seen tensions rise after the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia earlier this year.