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Former IAEA Director-General
Julia Masterson

North Korea Continues Uranium Enrichment

October 2020
By Julia Masterson

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on North Korea reveals ongoing uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon facility and continuing progress toward construction of an experimental light-water reactor (LWR). North Korea’s five-megawatt, gas-graphite reactor remains inactive, however; and there are no signs that plutonium reprocessing occurred within the last year, the agency’s Sept. 3 report finds.

Massimo Aparo, head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards, speaks to member states in July 2019 in Vienna. His department's September report on North Korea found that Pyongyang is continuing to produce material that could be used for a nuclear weapon. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Although the agency notes that, without inspector access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities the IAEA “cannot confirm either the operational status or configuration/design features of the facilities or locations described,” the report suggests that North Korea’s production of fissile material, specifically of highly enriched uranium (HEU), continues. That the agency detected no indications of plutonium reprocessing would suggest that North Korea’s plutonium production has stalled.

But the report suggests the IAEA is not able to determine whether irradiated fuel from the reactor’s most recent operational cycle, which ended in December 2018, remains inside the reactor or whether fuel rods were removed and stored in the spent fuel pond to await reprocessing. The latter action could imply a forthcoming plutonium reprocessing campaign, which would expand North Korea’s stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium.

The agency’s report does not estimate how much HEU North Korea produced during the reporting period or how much fissile material it has stockpiled in total.

According to the report, Pyongyang is continuing to make progress toward constructing an experimental LWR at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The report notes that although internal construction appears to have continued during the reporting period, the IAEA is unable to estimate based on available information when the reactor will become operational. Construction on the reactor began in late 2010.

North Korea’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA limits implementation of the agency’s safeguards practices to those that can be conducted remotely and without on-site access. Safeguards conclusions, including those reflected in the Sept. 3 report, are drawn largely from open source information and satellite imagery analysis.

Despite these limitations, the IAEA has taken steps to strengthen its preparedness to verify North Korea’s nuclear program should a diplomatic agreement on denuclearization be reached. According to the agency, these steps include efforts to enhance open source monitoring tools, expand collection of satellite imagery, and shore up inspectors’ familiarity with the technical aspects of North Korea’s nuclear program. The IAEA formed a North Korea team within its Department of Safeguards in August 2017 to develop and implement these safeguards practices.

Whether a denuclearization agreement with North Korea necessitating IAEA safeguards can be achieved remains in doubt. Kim Yo Jong, who heads the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, said on July 10 that “summit talks are not needed this year and beyond.”

She did not say that denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang were off the table permanently, but she listed a series of conditions to be met for diplomacy to proceed. Namely, she said, “denuclearization on the Korean peninsula can only be realized when there are major changes made on either side, i.e., the irreversible, simultaneous major steps to be taken in parallel with [North Korea’s] actions.” (See ACT, September 2020.)

In the meantime, Pyongyang appears to be continuing its development of nuclear weapons and offensive missile capabilities. A South Korean military official reported on Sept. 16 that North Korea may soon conduct an underwater-launched ballistic missile test for the first time in about a year. This test could support development of an eventual submarine-launched ballistic missile capability.

Although the IAEA’s September safeguards report and indications of an upcoming North Korean missile test are concerning, South Korean officials maintain that any military conflict with the North, even one in which North Korea uses nuclear weapons, can be countered by joint U.S.-South Korean forces without resorting to nuclear retaliation. Seoul said on Sept. 15 that no U.S.-South Korean military plan calls for the use of nuclear weapons.


Using off-site monitoring tools, the IAEA assesses North Korea’s nuclear activities.

Pentagon Warns of Chinese Nuclear Development

October 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

A new U.S. Defense Department assessment of China’s military power found that China continues to expand its nuclear capabilities, but the report seems to provide a less alarmist view of Beijing’s nuclear weapons policy and plans than some Trump administration officials have suggested.

Chinese military vehicles display DF-26 ballistic missiles during a 2015 parade in Beijing. The missiles would be the most likely to field a low-yield nuclear warhead, should China develop one, according to Pentagon assessments. (Photo: Andy Wong/Getty Images)According to the Pentagon’s 2020 report to Congress assessing China’s military capabilities, Beijing is estimated to possess a total nuclear warhead stockpile “in the low 200s.” The September report says that Beijing will likely “at least double its warhead stockpile,” which affirms an earlier department estimate, and that it will do so without new fissile material production.

The report, which covers Chinese security and military developments through 2019, marks the first time the U.S. government has provided a public estimate of China’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley assessed in May 2019 that China had an arsenal of warheads in the “low couple of hundreds,” but did not provide a specific estimate at that time.

The Pentagon’s estimate of China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads is lower than previously held expert assessments of China’s nuclear capabilities. Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists estimated that China had 290 nuclear warheads in 2019, but the Pentagon’s assessment likely does not include warheads for weapons that have yet to become operational or for dormant bomber weapons, Kristensen and Korda said in a Sept. 1 article.

China has consistently shied away from disclosing the exact size of its nuclear stockpile or corroborating any estimates of its capabilities.

The report also describes China’s pursuit of nuclear-capable, land- and air-based missiles and a potential shift in its nuclear policy doctrine. Although Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, has claimed that China is in the midst of a “secretive crash nuclear buildup,” the Pentagon’s assessment does not appear to substantiate the envoy’s statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized the Pentagon’s assessment and called the report “a deliberate distortion of China’s strategic intentions.”

“China’s strategic intentions are transparent and consistent,” she said Sept. 2.

The report states that China is in the process of further developing its land-based missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Beijing’s fixed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal consists of 100 missiles, including some equipped with multiple independently targetable reentryvehicles (MIRVs) to carry more than one warhead. The Pentagon assesses that China’s development of new ICBMs and advanced MIRV capabilities will strengthen its nuclear deterrent and necessitate increased nuclear warhead production.

Within the next five years, according to the Pentagon’s report, China aims to deploy close to 200 warheads on its land-based ICBMs, which can threaten the United States.

China will also expand its current inventory of more than 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear and conventional warheads to the Pacific and Asian regions.

The Defense Department highlights speculation by Chinese strategists that Beijing may need a low-yield nuclear weapon to “increase the deterrence value of China’s nuclear force without defining specific nuclear yield values.” The report suggests that the DF-26 would be the most likely missile to carry a low-yield warhead due to its capacity to deliver precision strikes. China is not currently known to field any low-yield nuclear weapons.

China aims to diversify its nuclear triad by developing a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile, says the report. During the October 2019 military parade, China revealed the H-6N as a long-range strategic bomber, which would be capable of carrying such a missile.

China’s nuclear policy doctrine, meanwhile, prioritizes the maintenance of a nuclear force so as to survive a first strike and soundly retaliate. Beijing has long held a no-first-use stance, but the Pentagon cites ambiguity with the conditions under which this policy would not hold. Some officers in the People’s Liberation Army have suggested that China should reserve the right to strike should the survival of its nuclear forces or regime be threatened, although no official statement on this front has been made.

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters on Sept. 14 that he sees “China developing a stack of capabilities that would be inconsistent with a no-first-use policy.” But Caitlin Talmadge of the Brookings Institution noted in a Sept. 16 tweet that even if China is not moving away from a no-first-use policy, “survivability improvements to Chinese nuclear forces are likely to intensify competition with [the United States.]”

China stated in a 2019 defense white paper that it maintains a minimum nuclear deterrent, but the Pentagon report says that Beijing has placed its nuclear forces on a path to exceed the size of such a deterrent, making its posture “more consistent” with a limited deterrent, which Chinese armed forces have described as a level between a minimum and maximum deterrent.

Furthermore, as part of its nuclear policy, China has “almost certainly” kept the majority of its nuclear forces on a peacetime status, with launchers, missiles, and warheads separated. The Defense Department report claims, however, that Beijing is seeking to keep a portion of its forces on a launch-on-warning posture, which would require mating missiles and warheads. As evidence, the report cites exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force that include “assigning a missile battalion to be ready to launch and rotating to standby positions as much as monthly for unspecified periods of time.” It also mentions an investment in silo-based forces and an improvement in early-warning capabilities and command and control, but this evidence is unclear and circumstantial, according to Kristensen and Korda.

Following the report’s release, Billingslea reiterated his insistence that China has a crash nuclear buildup program. Beijing needs to “come clean” about this program, he said in a Sept. 4 tweet, and “sit down for in-person talks, as so many nations have urged.”

Billingslea has led the Trump administration’s push to bring China into trilateral arms control talks with Russia, but China has so far rejected the U.S. effort, pointing to the difference in size of its nuclear arsenal as compared to those of the United States and Russia.

Although the report puts China’s nuclear warhead arsenal in the low 200s, the United States and Russia are each believed to have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads, including retired nuclear warheads awaiting dismantlement. Even if Beijing expands its nuclear arsenal as predicted by the Defense Department, it would still be far below that of the United States or Russia.

“We urge the United States to abandon the outdated Cold-War mentality and zero-game mindset,” said Hua on Sept. 2, and to “do more things that are conducive to the China-U.S. military-to-military relations.”

In the report, the Pentagon also estimates that China has achieved parity with or potentially exceeded the United States in its deployment of ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM). Where China currently fields more than 1,250 land-based GLBMs and GLCMs, the United States only fields one, a short-range, conventional GLBM. This gap in capabilities demonstrates the steps that Beijing has taken over the past 20 years to “strengthen and modernize the [People’s Liberation Army] in nearly every
aspect,” the report says.

Beijing seeks to boast a “world-class” military by the end of 2049, according to the report.

China has not defined what it means by its ambition for such a military, but the report says that “it is likely that China will aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat to its sovereignty, security, and development interests.”


Report Highlights Chinese Interest in New Technologies

One of the recurring themes of the Pentagon’s 2020 report on military developments in China is the strong emphasis being placed on the utilization of emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, quantum computing and encryption, and hypersonics by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to the report, Chinese leaders, from President Xi Jinping on down, recognize that advanced weaponry and command-and-control (C2) systems will play a decisive role in future great-power conflicts, and so Chinese forces must endeavor to match U.S. capabilities in this regard and, if possible, overtake them.

“China seeks to become a leader in key technologies with military potential, such as AI, autonomous systems, advanced computing, quantum information sciences, biotechnology, and advanced materials and manufacturing,” the report says. “China’s implementation of AI and a quantum communication network demonstrates the speed and scale with which it intends to deploy certain emerging technologies.”

The weaponization of AI is said to play an especially critical role in Chinese military planning, given that future wars are expected to unfold at extremely high speeds and to entail simultaneous operations in air, sea, ground, space, and cyber domains. As described by Chinese strategists, future operations increasingly will be “intelligentized,” meaning heavily reliant on AI-powered systems to track enemy movements, assess battlefield conditions, and guide PLA operations, all at machine speed.

“Victory in future warfare, according to PLA strategists, will depend upon which side can more quickly and effectively observe, orient, decide, and act in an increasingly dynamic operating environment,” the report says. “As a result, China is pursuing new technologies like AI to support future military capabilities, such as autonomous command and control (C2) systems, more sophisticated and predictive operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) fusion.”

As part of this effort, the PLA is said to be placing particular emphasis on the development of autonomous weapons and automated C2 systems. Without providing details, the report claims that significant progress has been made in the development of unmanned surface vessels and unmanned tanks, as wells as “armed swarming drones” using AI “to perform autonomous guidance, target acquisition, and attack execution.”

China is also assessed to be making progress in the development of advanced C2 systems that will use AI “to collect, fuse, and transmit big data for more effective battlespace management and to generate optimal courses of action” by commanders in the field. Such initiatives would appear to parallel similar endeavors in the United States, such as the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) system. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Among other emerging technologies highlighted in the Pentagon report, considerable stress is placed on Chinese progress in the development of hypersonic missiles. Such weapons, which can fly faster than five times the speed of sound, are said to play an important role in the PLA’s plans for defense against U.S. forces in a future Pacific-wide conflict. However, few details
are provided on Chinese gains in this area, except to note that the Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested in August 2018. —MICHAEL T. KLARE

An annual Defense Department report appears to undermine Trump administration assessments
of China’s nuclear ambitions.

Saudi Arabia, IAEA Discuss Safeguards

October 2020

Saudi Arabia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are engaging in talks to amend the country’s safeguards agreement, seeking to provide the agency with additional tools to verify the peaceful nature of Saudi Arabia’s expanding nuclear program.

Khalid Al-Sultan (left), leader of Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy program, meets with Cornel Feruta, the acting IAEA director-general, in September 2019. Saudi and IAEA officials have continued to discussing upgrading the nation's safeguards agreement with the agency. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Saudi Arabia currently has in place a small quantities protocol (SQP) with the IAEA, concluded in 2005. SQPs are applied to nations with little or no nuclear activities. They were designed in the early 1970s to fulfill the IAEA’s safeguards mandate without overburdening agency resources on states with negligible safeguards-applicable activities and material. Under the original SQP, the IAEA has a limited tool kit with which it can inspect and verify the peaceful nature of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program.

As Riyadh moves to grow its civilian nuclear program, including by pursuing construction of a facility possibly used for the production of uranium yellowcake, IAEA officials and states within the region have called on Saudi Arabia to expand the scope of its safeguards agreement with the agency. (See ACT, September 2020.) Saudi Arabia also plans to operate two large nuclear power reactors and is currently constructing its first research reactor at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Al Jazeera reported on July 21.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Sept. 14 that the agency is in talks with Saudi Arabia, adding that the kingdom is “interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful purposes of course.”

News of discussions between Saudi Arabia and the IAEA came amid a greater effort by Grossi to strengthen implementation of a revised SQP. “In 2020, the old standard SQP is simply not adequate,” Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on Sept. 14.

The agency adopted a revised SQP in 2005 that expands the IAEA’s safeguards privileges. Where the original SQP limited IAEA verification activities and did not require states to submit a declaration of nuclear activities, the revised SQP updates certain requirements, most notably the submission of a declaration report and the possibility of IAEA safeguards inspections.

Ninety-four qualifying states have adopted the revised SQP, but 31 maintain agreements under the original version, according to the IAEA. Saudi Arabia was the last state to conclude an SQP with the original text and has not amended its agreement. “I have decided to reinvigorate the agency’s efforts to encourage all remaining states to amend or rescind their SQPs,” Grossi urged.

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program remains in its early developmental stages, meaning that it can still be effectively safeguarded under an SQP model agreement. But should Saudi Arabia introduce nuclear materials, such as low-enriched uranium, and operate a nuclear reactor, it will be obligated to rescind its SQP and transition to a full-scope comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency.

“When they upgrade their activities including by the introduction of nuclear material in the kingdom, then we will have to have a stronger safeguards system,” Grossi confirmed.

Grossi said Riyadh and the IAEA are also discussing implementation of an additional protocol to the nation’s safeguards agreement, which would further strengthen the agency’s safeguards in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, IAEA Discuss Safeguards

UN Defies United States on Sanctions Snapback

UN Defies United States on Sanctions Snapback The United States threatened to penalize any country that fails to enforce UN sanctions on Iran that the Trump administration claims were reimposed Sept. 19, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that he would not take steps to implement the UN measures, which were lifted as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal. In a letter to the Security Council reported on by Reuters, Guterres said there is “uncertainty” over the status of the sanctions and that “pending clarification,” he will not take any action. Despite...

Iran’s Nuclear Program Remains on Steady Trajectory

A Sept. 4 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran continues to exceed limits on its uranium enrichment program imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) and is incrementally expanding its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 4.5 percent. While Iran’s persistent violations of the deal are troublesome, its rate of enriched uranium production has not increased over the course of 2020, indicating that Tehran is not actively dashing toward a bomb nor accelerating its production of fuel. This carefully calibrated approach supports assertions by Iranian leaders that...

IAEA Report Notes Progress on Investigation

The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s safeguards confirmed that inspectors have already accessed one undeclared site in Iran and will visit a second location in September. This is an unsurprising, but positive, confirmation that Iran and the IAEA are following through on the terms of an Aug. 26 agreement to finally allow agency inspectors access to follow up on evidence of possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities. While it is unfortunate that the dispute over access between the IAEA and Iran took nine months to resolve and that the IAEA’s Board...

UN Experts See North Korean Nuclear Gains

September 2020
By Julia Masterson

North Korea’s production of nuclear weapons continues despite aggressive sanctions, according to an article by CNN on Aug. 4 of an unreleased report by a UN panel of experts. The new report says Pyongyang has likely developed the capability to manufacture miniaturized nuclear devices that can fit on its ballistic missiles.

North Korea tests its Hwasong-14 ICBM on July 28, 2017. A UN panel of experts recently assessed that the nation has probably succeeded in miniaturizing its nuclear warheads enough to fit on long-range missiles. (Photo: Getty Images)The UN report also details one member state’s independent conclusion that North Korea “may seek to further develop miniturisation in order to allow incorporation of technological improvements such as penetration aid packages or, potentially, to develop multiple warhead systems.”

Mastery of warhead miniaturization suggests that North Korea could ostensibly deliver a nuclear weapon via its ballistic missiles, including its long-range systems. Although North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon since September 2017, the experts who contributed to the report assessed that the country’s six nuclear tests likely aided its development of miniaturized warheads.

As they continue to advance, Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities increasingly threaten the security of its neighbors in the region. Japan’s 2020 Defense White Paper, released in July, acknowledged for the first time that North Korea possesses the ability to attack Japan. The Japanese Defense Ministry noted that, in addition to miniaturized warheads, “North Korea is presumed to have acquired atmospheric re-entry technologies required for the operationalization of Nodong and Scud-ER ballistic missiles, within whose range Japan lies.” According to the ministry, this suggests North Korea “already has the ability to attack Japan with nuclear weapons fitted to these ballistic missiles.”

Pyongyang slammed Japan’s white paper as “a stream of nonsense on our possession of nuclear weapons,” according to a July 15 foreign ministry statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un touted the country’s nuclear weapons program during a July 28 speech. “Thanks to our reliable and effective self-defense nuclear deterrence, the word ‘war’ would no longer exist on this land, and the security and future of our state will be guaranteed forever,” he said. In May, Kim presided over a meeting of North Korean military officials who pledged to implement “new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country.” (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

North Korea is also accelerating its fissile material production, the UN panel report finds. According to an Aug. 4 analysis by Oliver Hotham at NK News, who saw the report, the enrichment facility at Yongbyon is operational, and an experimental light-water reactor located within the complex is under construction. Once completed, that reactor may be used to produce plutonium. As of now, North Korea’s five megawatt-electric gas-graphite reactor is the country’s only known source of plutonium, but that reactor is believed to have remained inoperative since 2018.

The report also examines the topic of unconfirmed enrichment activities at Kangson, which has been identified by several open-source analysts but has never been addressed by Pyongyang. Ankit Panda, a researcher with access to the classified report, wrote in NK Pro on Aug. 7 that the report says the states that have inquired about Kangson “do not have information to confirm that the facility in Kangson is for the uranium enrichment.” In 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the facility at Kangson is “not inconsistent” with an enrichment plant, and also said that the “timeline of [the facility’s] construction is not inconsistent” with North Korea’s reported uranium-enrichment program.

On a broad scale, the UN panel report exemplifies the extent to which a global sanctions campaign has failed to stifle North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs, in particular its development of nuclear weapons and advanced ballistic missiles. The report identifies several instances in which North Korean entities may have succeeded in circumventing UN sanctions to engage with sanctioned groups in China and Russia.

In one case, the report details Pyongyang’s Second Economic Committee’s attention to undertaking sustained “efforts to procure dual-use ‘choke point items’ from foreign sources.” Panda explained that these dual-use items could include the large, liquid-propellant engines in Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile fleet, for example. Because the report has not been made public, it remains unclear whether the referenced foreign groups transferred actual materials or equipment, or whether the transfer to North Korea consisted of technical know-how only. According to Panda, the UN report cites concerns about North Korean technicians that may be involved in collaborative international scientific and technical research.

The United States has not openly acknowledged the report. But U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said on Aug. 5 that North Korea’s nuclear program continues to jeopardize security in the region. It is “something we keep a very close eye on,” she said.


Sanctions have failed to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear warheads for missiles.

North Korea Sets Conditions for Diplomacy

September 2020
By Julia Masterson

Despite intermittent efforts by the Trump administration to negotiate with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program, talks between the two countries remain stalled, and there is little indication they will resume before the U.S. presidential election in November. Addressing a potential summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before the election, Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, said on July 4 that the United States “is mistaken if it thinks things like negotiations would still work on us.”

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (left) and his sister Kim Yo Jong attend the April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit in Panmunjom, South Korea. Kim Yo Jong, who heads the Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea recently said North Korean denuclearization "is not possible at this point in time." (Photo: Getty Images)“We do not feel any need to sit face to face with the U.S., as it does not consider the…dialogue as nothing more than a tool for grappling [with] its political crisis,” she added.

But the prospect for future diplomacy between the United States and North Korea is not entirely moot. In a July 10 statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong, who heads the Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea, said that the previous “theme” of North Korean-U.S. negotiations, “‘denuclearization measures versus lifting of sanctions,’ should change into a formula of ‘withdrawal of hostility versus resumption’” of negotiations.

Kim Yo Jong is the sister of North Korea’s leader.

“I am of the view that the…summit talks are not needed this year and beyond,” she said, adding that her position “does not necessarily mean the denuclearization is not possible. What we mean…is that it is not possible at this point in time.”

“I remind the U.S. that denuclearization on the Korean peninsula can only be realized when there are major changes made on either side, i.e., the irreversible, simultaneous major steps to be taken in parallel with our actions,” she noted.

She did not elaborate on North Korea’s negotiating position, but said that Pyongyang’s previous offer to permanently dismantle the nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon complex in exchange for partial sanctions relief is no longer on the table. That offer was withdrawn after the Trump administration demanded an additional concession by North Korea during the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, in February 2019. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Kim Yo Jong’s statement is consistent with earlier sentiments by officials in Pyongyang suggesting that the United States must reform its approach to North Korea if it seeks a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis at hand. The Trump administration has engaged in negotiations with North Korea on an intermittent basis since 2018, but Washington continues to demand that North Korea fully denuclearize before yielding any benefit of doing so. Washington also continues to hold the threat of mounting sanctions over Pyongyang in an attempt to economically force North Korea’s denuclearization. To this, Kim Yo Jong said in her statement, “we are fully capable of living under sanctions, so there is no reason for us to be driven” by the United States.

Rather, she said that U.S. sanctions have little influence over North Korea’s decision-making. She stated that, in her reference to “major changes from the other side,” she did “not mean the lifting of sanctions.”

Kim Yo Jong’s address clearly outlines North Korea’s conditions for renewed diplomacy with the United States, but it remains unclear whether negotiations will resume ahead of the election. The Trump administration has not commented on her statement, but during a July 10 visit to Japan, Steve Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, emphasized the “continued U.S. readiness to engage in dialogue” with North Korea.

A key North Korean official told the Trump administration to adjust its goals for diplomacy to succeed.


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