North Korea Stiffens Stance on U.S. Talks

December 2019
By Julia Masterson

North Korea is unwilling to engage in another round of working-level talks on denuclearization and peace with the United States at this time, Pyongyang’s chief negotiator said, increasing the risk it may resume long-range ballistic missile and nuclear testing next year.

North Korean delegation leader Kim Song addresses the UN General Assembly on September 30, telling the diplomats that easing U.S.-North Korean tensions depends entirely on U.S. actions. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)“I intuitively feel that the U.S. is not ready to give a satisfactory answer to us,” said Kim Myong Gil, special envoy to U.S.-North Korean working-level talks, on Nov. 14, adding that, without a change to Washington’s “hostile policy,” the United States and North Korea would fail to reach a “settlement of issues.” But he stated, “[I]f the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the U.S. at any place and any time.”

North Korea and the United States have engaged in intermittent negotiations on denuclearization and building a peace regime on the Korean peninsula since June 2018, but the talks have failed to produce significant results.

U.S. and North Korean delegations met most recently in Stockholm, in October, where talks collapsed after North Korea accused the United States of failing to change its inflexible negotiation stance. (See ACT, November 2019.)

Although details of the Stockholm meeting remain unclear, North Korea has repeatedly demanded that the Trump administration put sanctions relief on the table earlier in the process in exchange for steps toward dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang also appears to be dismissing the prospect of a third summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Responding to a Nov. 17 tweet by Trump urging North Korea to “act quickly” to “get the deal done,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser issued a Nov. 18 statement in the state-run Korean Central News Agency warning, “[W]e will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of.”

The adviser, Kim Kye Gwan, reiterated Pyongyang’s stance that if the United States “truly wants to keep on dialogue with [North Korea], it had better make a bold decision to drop its hostile policy” toward North Korea.

North Korea has observed self-imposed nuclear and long-range missile testing moratoria since April 2018. North Korean officials have threatened to resume testing in 2020 if talks with the United States do not make progress.

A spokesperson for North Korea’s State Affairs Commission warned on Nov. 13 that if the United States does not alter its approach to North Korea, “it will face greater threat and be forced to admit its failure,” adding that U.S. policy would have implications for “the future” of the United States.

The spokesperson went on to condemn military training exercises involving the United States and South Korea, calling them “the biggest factor of the repeating vicious cycle” of North Korean-U.S. relations.

The Trump administration has modified joint military exercises with South Korea in an attempt to create an environment more conducive to talks. North Korea views the exercises as provocative.

After his first summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018, Trump informed reporters of his intention to cancel joint exercises with South Korea, calling them “provocative” as well.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Nov. 17 that the United States and South Korea would indefinitely delay a military exercise planned for December. He announced the delay after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Bangkok.

He said the decision was a “good faith effort” by the United States and South Korea to “facilitate a political agreement—a deal, if you will—that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

He urged North Korea to “demonstrate the same goodwill” and return to talks “without precondition or hesitation.”

Esper said on Nov. 13 that the United States is willing to continue adjusting the exercises, in consultation with South Korea, to “empower and enable our diplomats.” He said that adjusting exercises is not a concession to North Korea, but a “means to keep the door open to diplomacy.”

North Korea has expressed appreciation for Trump’s decision to cancel exercises in the past. “[Pyongyang’s] discontinuation of the nuclear and [intercontinental ballistic missile] tests and the U.S. suspension of joint military exercises are, for all intents and purposes, commitments made to improve bilateral relations,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on July 16.