US envoys’ chronic case of tardiness
By Kim Young-jin
For reporters, constantly up against a deadline, every minute is of the essence.
So when Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, strode into the lobby of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Monday some 10 minutes late for a press briefing, at least one reporter wished the diplomat would hasten his steps.
Really? One might ask. We’re complaining here about 10 minutes? But in the world of reporting ― and one imagines diplomacy with hermit North Korea ― that time can be of utmost value.
Davies is by many accounts a steady diplomat. He seems quite genial (before addressing the possibility of another North Korean nuclear test, he took some time to marvel at the gorgeous Seoul weather) and well-versed.
But what we hope is not lost on such officials ― it was not the first time in recent years for a U.S. envoy to make reporters wait ― is the pressure the media is under to rapidly parlay (and for Korean-language papers, translate) their words into an airtight story.
Perhaps it is Seoul that is holding up the meetings or a lack of urgency by either side to meet the press. And envoys of other countries start late sometimes, too. At any rate reporters are quite used to the scene, and use the time to catch up with colleagues while nervously checking their watches.
In ten minutes, a reporter can call two experts for quotes. It’s another chance to read her work before filing. We can thumb through our notes for additional details. For this reporter, whose story was expected as soon as was humanly possible after the briefing, it may have saved him peeved phone calls from his editors, who needed to place it on page one.
The value of 10 minutes is not lost on Davies and other diplomats who deal with Pyongyang. After all, the Stalinist state’s failed rocket launch last month lasted roughly one-fifth of that time and yet sent tensions soaring. The Kim Jong-un regime recently declared, in oddly specific terms, that it could turn Seoul into ashes in under half that time.
Of course, 10 minutes of negotiations with North Korean officials may not yield many results these days, given the short leash its foreign ministry is on. But one hopes it would be that much longer for the North to reconsider ever waging another military provocation on the South, to which Seoul has vowed to respond resolutely.
Nor are diplomats unaware of what it’s like to work on deadlines. How often have the allies been on the clock to convince Pyongyang against a provocative act or U.N. Security Council members to back censure on the troublesome country?
Analysts say in politics and diplomacy, arriving late to meetings can be a tactic to gain the upper hand, projecting that a particular party is more important than the other.
While few would suggest this is at play in the alliance, especially given Washington’s recent policy prioritization of Asia, one would be hard pressed to find a reporter that would not appreciate the key partner showing up on time for a briefing.
With alliance issues and the ongoing North Korea riddle, countless such sessions will be held in the years to come. We hope officials take a minute to consider the extra attention those from Washington get here ― given its number one ally status. See you next time, on time?