SEOUL, South Korea – The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rejected prospects of a rapid resumption of diplomacy with the United States, saying on Tuesday that the United States’ expectations for the talks “would plunge them in greater disappointment ”.
Kim Yo Jong’s direct statement says diplomatic standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program is likely to continue unless the North suffers greater economic hardship from the pandemic and needs urgent external assistance some experts said.
Hopes for a restart of nuclear talks erupted briefly after Kim Jong Un said last week that his country must be ready for both dialogue and confrontation, but more for confrontation. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called Kim’s comments “an interesting signal.”
Kim Yo Jong mocked Sullivan’s response on Tuesday.
“It appears that the United States may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek solace for itself,” the official Central Korean news agency said, quoting the young woman. “The wait, which they have chosen to feed back, would plunge them into greater disappointment.”
Shin Beomchul, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea National Strategy Research Institute, said North Korea has been communicating the same message for months – that it has no plans to resume talks unless that the United States offers significant concessions, possibly in the form of relaxed economic sanctions. The Biden administration, for its part, is unwilling to budge either, he said.
“Both sides are locked in a waiting game – North Korea wants the United States to make concessions first, and the United States has no intention of matching the level of action demanded by the North, ”Shin said.
On Monday, during a visit to Seoul, Sung Kim, the top US envoy for North Korean affairs, said Washington was ready to meet the North “anywhere, anytime without preconditions.” . But he stressed that the Biden administration would continue to pressure North Korea with sanctions on its nuclear and missile ambitions.
Just before the release of Kim Yo Jong’s statement on Tuesday, Sung Kim met with South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young and said Washington and Seoul remain committed to seeking the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. through diplomacy. Lee said he hoped North Korea would return to the negotiating table at an early date and called the current situation a “very good chance” of resuming talks.
Sung Kim then met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and the two said they would work to resume US-Korean talks, Moon’s office said. The South Korean government did not immediately comment on Kim Yo Jong’s statement.
As a precondition for resuming talks, North Korea has repeatedly called on the United States to lift its “hostile policy” towards it, an apparent reference to US-led sanctions and regular military exercises with it. South Korea. But experts say the Biden administration will not ease sanctions or make other major concessions until North Korea takes concrete steps towards denuclearization.
North Korea can only soften its stance if it can no longer endure its current economic difficulties, some experts have said. Kim Jong Un admitted that North Korea is facing what he described as its “worst crises of all time”, due to the drastic reduction in international trade caused by the border closures linked to the pandemic, mismanagement, economic sanctions and storms that destroyed crops last year.
The stalemate “could be prolonged unless there is a change in the conditions facing the North, such as greater economic hardship or linked to a pandemic,” Shin said.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of the Sejong Private Institute in South Korea said Kim Yo Jong’s statement suggested that North Korea was not ready to resume talks anytime soon.
“Mutual distrust and antagonism run so deep that resuming talks between North Korea and the United States is difficult. Even if the United States and North Korea meet, it will never be easy to find common ground, ”Cheong said.
Last Thursday, Kim Jong Un ordered officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation, “especially to fully prepare for the confrontation,” in order to protect national security and dignity.
In an interview with ABC News, Sullivan said on Sunday that “his comments this week we consider an interesting signal. And we’ll wait and see if they are followed by any more direct communication with us on a potential path forward. “
US officials have suggested that Biden would choose a middle ground between former President Donald Trump’s direct dealings with Kim and former President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience”. Details of Biden’s North Korean policy have not been made public.
U.S.-led diplomacy to strip North Korea of its nuclear program has stalled since February 2019, when the Americans rejected a North Korean request for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities at a summit between Kim and Trump.