N. Korea releases statement regarding breakdown in working-level talks with US

Posted on : 2019-10-07 17:24 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Kim Myong-gil states Pyongyang won’t engage in negotiations until Washington takes action
Kim Myong-gil
Kim Myong-gil

“If the US makes a sincere response to the confidence-building measures and the steps toward denuclearization that we have preemptively taken, we can enter a serious discussion about the next steps toward denuclearization.”

That was part of a statement that Kim Myong-gil, North Korea’s chief negotiator in its talks with the US, read at a press conference in front of the North Korean Embassy in Stockholm. The press conference was held at 6:30 pm on Oct. 5, shortly after the conclusion of North Korea-US working-level talks in the same city. In effect, Kim was stating that the North won’t engage in serious negotiations until the US moves from rhetoric to action.

While the Americans have emphasized the importance of in-depth negotiations aimed at producing an all-inclusive agreement that extends to the final goal of denuclearization, the North Koreans essentially called for the US to take initial confidence-building measures before moving forward with negotiations predicated on the approach of gradually making and implementing agreements that correspond to the level of mutual trust.

Kim expressed his “great displeasure” that “the US did not bring along the [new] calculations that we had requested,” leading to the “breakdown” of the talks. But Kim stressed that “North Korea’s desire to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and negotiations remains unchanged” and refrained from declaring that the negotiations had gotten off track.

On the other hand, Kim said that he doesn’t believe the US is ready and “suggested that the negotiations be suspended until the end of the year so that the US can think things over.” In short, the North plans to wait for the US to make a “sincere response” and doesn’t intend to participate in any further negotiations until that time.

North Korea cranked up the pressure with an additional statement released by the spokesperson of its Foreign Ministry on the evening of Oct. 6. “The recent negotiations have [. . .] made us think if it isn’t its real intention to abuse the bilateral relations for gratifying its party interests [. . .] The fate of the future DPRK-US dialogue depends on the US attitude, and the end of this year is its deadline,” the statement said.

The question is what exactly North Korea means by the “sincere response” it wants the US to give as a condition for engaging in serious negotiations. Kim offered three examples in his statement. Since the first North Korea-US summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018, Kim said, the US has enacted 15 rounds of additional sanctions on North Korea, resumed joint military exercises with South Korea after US President Donald Trump personally promised to end them, and brought advanced weapons of war to the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula, threatening North Korea’s “survival and development.” Since the third point here is subsidiary to the second, the remarks imply that sanctions and military exercises are important to the North.

Sanctions and military exercises have been treated very differently in the agreements and pledges made by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their two summits and elsewhere. Trump has never officially promised to ease or lift sanctions. North Korea’s approach to the issue of sanctions generally implies the continued validity of the proposal that Kim made during his second summit with Trump to exchange the permanent shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear complex for lifting five of the UN’s sanctions resolutions — admittedly, a proposal on which an agreement was never reached.

“Kim Myong-gil’s statement is in line with the Pyongyang Joint Declaration issued on Sept. 19, 2018, in which North Korea expressed its willingness to continue taking measures such as the permanent shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear complex if the US takes corresponding measures,” said Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

On his way back to North Korea, Kim spoke with reporters during his layover in Beijing on Oct. 7, saying “future negotiations up to the US,” laying additional pressure on the US for further action. Kim did not seem convinced that negotiations with resume in the near future.

Regarding the US’ reference to talks resuming two weeks later, Kim said the US has not shown any “new calculations” in the time that has passed since Trump and Kim Jong-un met at Panmunjom in June. Kim sarcastically added: “Do you expect Washington to come up with them in just two weeks?” When asked if negotiations would resume, he simply replied, “That’s in the US’ hands.”

 North Korea’s chief US negotiator
North Korea’s chief US negotiator

Issue of S. Korea-US joint military exercises

In contrast, South Korea and the US’ declaration that they would halt military exercises helped pave the way for the first North Korea-US summit in June 2018, and Trump reconfirmed his plan to halt the exercises during an official press conference on the day of the Singapore summit. But South Korea and the US resumed their command post exercises in the second half of this year and have continued joint exercises at the battalion level and below. These exercises were what North Korea was protesting when it launched short-range projectiles on 10 occasions between May 4 and Sept. 10 and when it tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Oct. 2.

The continuation of South Korea-US military exercises is also an issue in North Korea’s domestic politics, undermining the rule of Kim Jong-un, who has adopted a strategic line focusing on the economy and even directed local arms producers to contribute to the civilian economy.

“Kim Jong-un appears to think it’s risky to take part in serious denuclearization talks without securing a definite promise that South Korea and the US will halt their military exercises. It’s safe to say that the rational core of the ‘sincere response’ in Kim Myong-gil’s statement is halting military exercises,” a former high-ranking government official said on Oct. 6.

In his statement, Kim Myong-gil also mentioned the final goal that North Korea has in mind, corresponding to the US’ final goal of complete denuclearization. Kim called on the US to guarantee the North’s “existence” (that is, security) and “development” (that is, lifting all sanctions) and to take action to prove its intentions.

“We have no intention to hold such sickening negotiations as what happened this time before the US takes a substantial step to make [a] complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK,” North Korea said in its statement on the evening of Oct. 6.

By Lee Je-hun and Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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