SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – After giving the Biden administration the silent treatment for two months, North Korea this week convened two powerful women to warn Washington about the combined military exercises with South Korea and the diplomatic consequences. of its “hostile” policies towards Pyongyang. .
However, frustration and belligerence can actually be an overture.
North Korea’s first comments toward the new US government, while filled with irate rhetoric, can be seen as the beginning of a diplomatic exchange as the North leans back into stalled talks aimed at capitalizing on its nuclear weapons for much-needed economic purposes. Benefits.
The timing of North Korea’s remarks was carefully chosen, and the comments made headlines and newscasts as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Asia to chat with US allies Tokyo and Seoul about the threat from North Korea and others. regional challenges.
Whether negotiations take place may hinge on the Biden administration’s policy review on North Korea, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
WHAT NORTH KOREA IS SAYING
On Tuesday, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister rebuked the latest military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which were scheduled to end a nine-day race on Thursday.
Describing the drills as an invasion rehearsal, Kim Yo Jong warned Washington to “refrain from causing a stench” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.
North Korea’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui said in a statement Thursday that North Korea will continue to ignore US offers for talks unless it abandons what North Korea describes as hostile policies.
Choe responded to Blinken’s comments this week that Washington reached out to the North through various channels beginning in mid-February, but has not received any response.
“What has been heard from the United States since the rise of the new regime is just a lunatic ‘North Korean threat’ theory and unfounded rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearization,'” said Choe, calling the US talks offers delay trick “.
WHAT PYONGYANG WANTS
Choe’s statement could be an attempt by North Korea to create an environment to re-enter nuclear negotiations from a position of strength, according to Shin Beomchul, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea National Strategy Research Institute.
Negotiations between Washington and Seoul have stalled for more than two years since the collapse of the nuclear summit between Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump in 2019. The two sides disagreed on details of a plan to exchange sanctions for disarmament. Pyongyang has repeatedly stated that it will not participate in meaningful talks as long as Washington persists with sanctions and pressure.
“It is clear that the North is trying to strengthen its bargaining power,” Shin said.
But North Korea could also be bracing for harsher words to the Biden administration over Blinken’s repeated condemnation in Seoul of North Korea’s human rights record, something Trump largely ignored as he sought media-friendly summits with Kim. . That could complicate any future negotiations.
The North is extremely sensitive to outside criticism of its dire human rights conditions, which it sees as an attack on its leadership, and Choe’s statement appeared to be drawn up before North Korea could decide on a response to Blinken’s comments.
“There will probably be serious opposition from the North” to Blinken’s comments on human rights, said Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul.
YOU TALK AND PRESSURE
Most experts agree that the North will eventually try to return to negotiations to try to win help, but they differ on when and what it would take for the talks to resume.
Recently, Kim has challenged the advancement of a nuclear arsenal that he considers his greatest guarantee of survival. He has also urged his people to be resilient in the fight for economic self-sufficiency as he launches a new multi-year plan to save their broken economy.
Kim’s focus on its domestic economic boost could mean North Korea staying away from the talks for another year and returning only after it becomes clear that Kim’s new policies are failing, Shin said.
“If North Korea is really desperate for a speedy resumption of talks, it would test an ICBM around April 15,” the birthday of Kim’s founding grandfather Kim Il Sung, to pressure Washington into talks, he said. Shin.
But he said North Korea is more likely to avoid provoking the Biden administration, and inviting more pressure, because Kim’s priority is to quietly consolidate his country as a nuclear power, which is also a key purpose of its domestic economic boost.
North Korea could still attempt short-range test launches that threaten South Korea, but not the American homeland. But, Shin said, “they will put any dramatic action on hold at least until the Biden administration’s revision of North Korea policy is released.”
Kim must navigate the complicated relationship with Washington as his nation faces sanctions, pandemic border closures and devastating natural crop disasters that may be pushing the North into worse economic instability.
Regardless of what action the North takes, its recent messages indicate that it will not return to the talks unless the United States offers at least some level of sanctions relief. However, that is unlikely to happen without a significant cut in Kim’s nuclear capabilities.