US downplays orchestra impact on North Korean relations

Other News Materials 27 February 2008 03:56 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - The New York Philharmonic's performance in Pyongyang might have been an historic stride for US-North Korean cultural ties, but US officials cautioned that music alone will do little to overcome the two countries' long-standing disputes.

An audience of elite North Korean Communist Party officials in the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre heard the US and North Korean national anthems and classic symphonies including Antonin Dvorak's From the New World, and the orchestra received standing ovations in return.

But the concert did nothing to bridge differences on nuclear disarmament, human rights or the normalization of ties between the capitalist United States or communist North Korea, two countries who - technically - have been in a state of war since 1950.

"Part of normalized relations would include possible cultural exchanges," like the Philharmonic, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "But I think, at the end of the day, we consider this concert to be a concert. And it's not a diplomatic, you know, coup."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not attend the performance, though she was in Seoul just a day earlier for the inauguration of new South Korea President Lee Myung Bak. Reclusive North Korea leader Kim Jung Il did not attend, either.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Rice welcomed the concert as a way to help the Stalinist state open up through cultural exchanges, but kept the focus of her trip on making progress in the six-nation agreement for North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

"It's a long way from playing that concert to changing the nature of the politics of North Korea," Rice said. "But I think it's a good thing."

Progress on the February 13, 2007 agreement between China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas has slowed because Washington believes Pyongyang has not fully declared the extent of its nuclear activities.

Pyongyang wants Washington to take further steps to remove North Korea from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, as well as to lift sanctions and normalize relations. Washington agreed to those steps as part of the February 13 agreement, but only after Pyongyang's nuclear programme has been dismantled.

The United States regularly decries the lack of human-rights under the totalitarian state, and that even though the New York Philharmonic put on a "wonderful concert," North Koreans still live in despair, Perino said.

"You have to remember how many people in North Korea who weren't able to come and experience the New York Philharmonic," she said. "And we can't help but think about those people and the terrible conditions that they're living under."

The White House has supported the Philharmonic's decision as a private organization to travel to Pyongyang. The State Department helped make arrangements for the trip.

"If it spurs North Korea to do what it says it would do, in the six-party talks, I guess you could look back and say it was helpful," Perino said. "But today, I don't think we can say whether or not it was helpful. I would just say it was probably neutral."