‘No breakthrough expected in NK-US dialogue after Kim Jong-un’s return’

06-May-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Will Kim Jong-un’s return from his hiatus from the public life change the status quo in the stalled US-North Korea denuclearisaton talks? This is the core question in the minds of many people who follow North Korea affairs.

US President Donald Trump seemed to welcome the North Korean leader’s return. He retweeted a post about Kim’s visit to a fertiliser factory in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, Saturday, saying “I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!” During a press conference after Kim’s re-emergence, Trump said that he “may” talk to Kim this weekend, without providing any details.

Following Trump’s reaction, the possibility of a restart of the North Korea-US talks at the highest level once again gained the spotlight.

But experts who spoke to The Korea Times, Tuesday, said that two key factors ? first, their respective fights against the COVIID-19 pandemic and second, the US presidential election ? will likely prevent any major breakthrough. The countries’ denuclerisation talks have been deadlocked since a failed meeting between officials from the two sides in Sweden in November 2019.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies, told The Korea Times that Kim will not make any major move until November when the US elects a new president, and instead use the time until then to map out strategies to deal with Washington in the post-election period.

“When looking back, we have never seen epochal advances in North Korea-US relations during the presidential election season in the U.S,” said Yang.

“Another thing to note is that the two countries are both immersed with tackling COVID-19. So from President Trump’s point of view, it is important at this point to maintain the status quo so that Kim does not progress further with his nuclear and missile programmes. On the other hand, Kim will be planning his moves based on a couple of scenarios: Plan A) what to do if Trump wins and Plan B) what to do if Biden wins.”

Joe Biden, the former US vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has been very critical of Trump’s North Korea policies, so his win could possibly bring huge changes to Washington’s strategy with the North.

Long-term perspective

Although Pyongyang is expected to remain rather passive about picking up negotiations with Washington this year, some analysts note that it is still committed to talking to the US in the long-run and will try harder to cement its stature as a “credible” negotiating partner, regardless of who wins the presidential election.

In this regard, Hong Min, director of the North Korea Division at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said that the recent establishment of a US bureau in North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a strong message to both Trump and Biden.

“The establishment of the bureau specialising in talks with the US is a very important signal,” Hong said in a phone interview with The Korea Times.

“It is a message not just for Trump, but for Biden as well. It means that North Korea sees negotiations with the US as an issue that will continue in the long term, and not something to give up on if there is no visible achievement under the Trump administration,” Hong said.

“So North Korea intentionally announced the creation of the bureau to make its position clear that it puts considerable importance on the negotiations and wants to be seen as a trustworthy negotiating partner. It is uncertain who will win, but Pyongyang is sending a signal to both that it will remain committed to talking with the US”

He added that it was unlikely that Kim will conduct any drastic provocations during the current uncertainties so as to minimise obstacles to resuming negotiations.

Prospects for inter-Korean talks

Despite the stalled North Korea,-US talks, President Moon Jae-in said that he will push ahead with his inter-Korean projects that are feasible under existing restraints such as international sanctions.

Moon has limited time to make any real progress with the North as he marks his third year in office, May 10. But prospects for a push for inter-Korean projects, on the back of Moon’s renewed confidence following a sweeping election victory last month, are unclear as inter-Korea relations remain on the backburner from North Korea’s perspective, according to experts.

“For North Korea, what is most important is its relations with the US, as forging new relations can open doors for new economic opportunities,” Hong said.

“Pyongyang sees relations with China with great urgency as the country’s cooperation is indispensable in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and coping with the economic sanctions. Inter-Korean relations are dependent on North Korea-US and North Korea-China relations.

Moon made proposals on health, climate change and border exchanges with the North during his New Year address, and recently suggested inter-Korean cooperation to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since Kim’s return, we have not had any contact from the North yet. We are still waiting to hear from them,” a senior presidential aide said Sunday.

Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that Moon will make any new proposals in the near future, according to analysts.



Category: Korea

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