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The U.S. Wants to Talk To North Korea. North Korea Takes a Pass (For Now).

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U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim reiterated the United States’ willingness to engage diplomatically with North Korea during a visit to South Korea.

Kim – who in addition to his role as U.S. Special Representative for North Korea is also the current U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia – is currently on a several-day visit to South Korea, his first visit to the country since his appointment as Special Representative, and the trip comes roughly a month after the summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Kim has been joined on the visit by Deputy Special Representative for North Korea Jung Pak.

Together, the two top U.S. North Korea policy officials have met with a host of South Korean government officials to discuss a range of issues including North Korea and the implementation of agreements reached during the Biden-Moon summit. In addition to multilateral meetings with South Korean officials, Kim also took part in a trilateral meeting with South Korean and Japanese officials.

During the trilateral meeting, Kim spoke about the U.S. position vis-à-vis North Korea, saying that the United States is open to diplomatic engagement with the DPRK.

“We continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere anytime without preconditions,” said Kim, adding that in the absence of diplomacy with North Korea the United States would continue to fully implement United Nations Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea.

The Biden administration recently completed its review of North Korea policy, and has indicated that its policy moving forward will embrace a “calibrated, practical approach,” with a heavy emphasis on diplomacy with North Korea. Prior to the release of its new policy, the Biden administration reportedly reached out to North Korea via backchannel methods without receiving a response, while more recently Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the ball is in North Korea’s court with regards to kicking off diplomatic negotiations.

So far, North Korea has not indicated that it is interested in making the first move towards entering into renewed diplomatic negotiations with the United States. During a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told the assembled party officials that North Korea would need to be “prepared for both dialogue and confrontation and more perfectly confrontation” following an analysis of U.S. policy.

While some have suggested that Kim’s comments indicate that North Korea is preparing to reenter diplomatic negotiations, others have pointed to North Korea’s history of using limited confrontation to strengthen its diplomatic hand and to maintain tenuous stability on the Korean Peninsula that favors North Korea.

Update: As we went to press a statement was released by Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, that seemed to make it clear the DPRK is in no mood to talk:

I heard the news that the U.S. National Security Advisor had mentioned that he regards the position towards the U.S. as an “interesting signal”, which the Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea clarified this time.

A Korean proverb says that “In a dream, what counts most is to read it, not to have it.”

It seems that the U.S. may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself.

The expectation, which they chose to harbour the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment.

Written By

Eli Fuhrman is an Assistant Researcher in Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest and a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focusedd on East Asian security issues and U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region.

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