Sung Kim, Biden’s special representative for North Korea, was in Seoul to speak with South Korean and Japanese officials about the United States’ stalled diplomacy with the North over its nuclear program and U.S.-led sanctions.
The trilateral talks came after a North Korean summit last week in which Kim Jong Un urged for greater efforts to boost his country’s economy. He was also battered last summer by pandemic-related border closures, and now faces worsening food scarcity.
According to the U.S. Ambassador, allies took note that North Korean leader’s comments were made and they hope that North Korea will respond positively if the proposal for a meeting is accepted.
“We continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions,” Sung Kim said during his meeting with the South Korean and Japanese nuclear envoys, Noh Kyu-duk and Takehiro Funakoshi. He was referring, of course to the North’s official nickname, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim said that, even though it is offering talks with North Korea, the Biden administration will continue to put pressure on Pyongyang using sanctions against its nuclear ambitions. Kim, possibly referring to China as the North’s most important ally and economic strength, stated that Washington will continue to press U.N. member state, particularly U.N Security Council member members, to “address the threat posed by the North.”
According to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, the officials of the three countries reiterated a coordinated approach towards North Korea and shared a commitment to work towards a rapid resumption in dialogue. Kim later met South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, who called for “airtight coordination” between Washington and Seoul on diplomatic efforts to stabilize peace on the Korean Peninsula.
In recent speeches, North Korean leaders have threatened to increase their nuclear deterrent. They also stated that the fates of diplomacy as well as bilateral relations depend on Washington’s abandonment of what he refers to as hostile policies.
South Korea, which is eagerly awaiting inter-Korean collaboration, expressed optimism about a quick restart of diplomacy.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry claims that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made comments last week at a ruling party gathering, where he stated that he expects both dialogue and confrontation from the United States. It was an indication of Seoul’s willingness to embrace diplomacy.
Others thought the comments were merely a repetition Pyongyang’s wait & see approach of insisting Washington change and make concessions first.
While Kim urged officials to boost agricultural production and brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, none of the decisions reported after the party meeting seemed directly related to facilitating talks with the United States.
The Biden administration displayed an openness to negotiations, but has given little information about its policy towards North Korea. This is in line with a long-term principle that the Biden administration will take a “calibrated & practical approach” to diplomacy while still maintaining sanctions.
Tae Yongho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected and was elected a South Korean lawmaker, posted on Facebook that Kim’s comments at the party meeting seemed tailored to mirror what the Biden administration has said about the North.
“Advocates see Kim Jong Un’s recent mentions that dialogue are a sign North Korea may open the door for discussions, but Pyongyang continues to refuse to engage in working-level negotiations on nuclearization,” Leif Eric Easley (a professor of international Studies at Ewha Womans University) said.
He said the North may return to negotiations only after demonstrating its strength with post-pandemic economic recovery and provocative military tests, which could possibly come later this summer when the United States and South Korea usually hold their combined military exercises. The allies describe the drills as defensive in nature, but the North claims they are invasion rehearsals.