N. Korean Foreign Ministry adviser says Pyongyang will return to negotiations only if US agrees to all demands

Posted on : 2020-01-13 17:41 KST Modified on : 2020-01-13 17:50 KST
Kim Kye-gwan releases statement confirming Trump’s letter to Kim Jong-un
A scene of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is receiving a military briefing from a documentary film broadcast by the state-run Korean Central Television network on Jan. 10. (Yonhap News)
A scene of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is receiving a military briefing from a documentary film broadcast by the state-run Korean Central Television network on Jan. 10. (Yonhap News)

A senior North Korean official said on Saturday that the only condition under which it will rejoin dialogue with the US is for the US to agree to all its demands.

“We will never [waste] our time again, being taken in by [American tricks] as in the past,” said Kim Kye-gwan, advisor of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on the afternoon of Jan. 11.

Kim’s statement confirms that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un received a letter from US President Donald Trump congratulating him on his birthday, as well as the message that Trump told Blue House National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong, who was visiting the US, to remind South Korean President Moon Jae-in to convey to the North Koreans.

Kim Kye-gwan’s statement represents an indirect response to Trump’s personal letter. It’s the first statement by a senior North Korean official directed at the US since the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), from Dec. 28 to 31.

“It is true that the personal relations between the Chairman of our State Affairs Commission [Kim Jong-un] and President Trump are not bad,” Kim acknowledged in his statement.

“Although Chairman Kim Jong-un has [. . .] good personal feelings about President Trump, they are, in the true sense of the word, ‘personal.’ The Chairman of the State Affairs Commission would not discuss [. . .] state affairs on the basis of such personal feelings, as he represents our state and its interests.”

“We have been deceived by the US, being caught in [. . .] dialogue with it for over one year and a half, and that was [. . .] lost time for us,” Kim Kye-gwan said, describing as foolish any attempts to either make North Korea “return to the dialogue with the US [. . .] or creating an atmosphere for it.”

First response to Trump’s personal letter was cool and cautious

In short, the statement cautions against hopes that Trump’s personal letter will persuade Kim Jong-un to return to the negotiations.

Kim Kye-gwan flatly said that “there will never be such negotiations as [those] in Vietnam, in which we proposed exchanging a core nuclear facility of the country for [lifting] some UN sanctions in a bid to lessen the sufferings of the peaceable people even a bit.” This remark indicates that the proposal made by Kim Jong-un during his second summit with Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27-28, 2019, is no longer valid. Kim had offered to permanently shut down the Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the lifting of five of 11 UN sanctions, which North Korea says impede its domestic economy and public livelihood.

Statement still doesn’t rule out negotiations

Despite the interpretations offered by some newspapers and experts, this doesn’t mean that Kim Jong-un is ruling out negotiations about North Korea taking additional steps toward denuclearization in exchange for the partial easing or lifting of sanctions. To wit, Kim said that North Korea-US dialogue would be possible “under the condition of [the US’] absolute agreement” to North Korea’s demands.

Those demands are already widely known: in a press conference convened after the two sides’ working-level talks in Stockholm on Oct. 5, 2019, Kim Myong-gil, roving ambassador of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, called on the US to remove all threats to security and all obstacles to development. In a report at the plenary meeting in December, Kim said that the US’ joint military exercises with South Korea, South Korea’s acquisition of cutting-edge American weaponry, and sanctions were examples of the US “ambition to stifle” the North.

This can be taken to mean that dialogue and negotiations would be possible if the US offers a definite and improved plan for halting military exercises with South Korea and easing or lifting sanctions. But, Kim Kye-gwan added, “We know well that the US is neither ready nor able to do so.” This appears to refer to US Special Representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun’s refusal to discuss halting the military exercises or easing or lifting sanctions during a six-hour discussion at Stockholm of plans for implementing the four points of the two countries’ joint statement, announced on June 12, 2018. It many also hint at domestic politics in the US, and especially the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump.

“We [. . .] will go on our way,” Kim Kye-gwan said in the statement. This means that, at least for now, North Korea means to focus on the “frontal breakthrough offensive,” fought on the “key front” of the economy, which presumes “self-sufficiency” and a protracted struggle against the sanctions, as Kim Jong-un promised in his plenary report.

However, Kim didn’t specifically explain North Korea’s “way,” or its demands, though these were keywords in his statement that are related to developments on the Korean Peninsula. It’s worth paying heed to this rhetorical ambiguity, which was likely deliberate.

“Kim Kye-gwan’s statement contains a maximal expression of North Korea’s demands. Since North Korea has activated ‘Plan B,’ or in other words its ‘frontal breakthrough offensive,’ it couldn’t have taken a minimal line, which would have presumed the negotiations in ‘Plan A,’” said a former senior official in the South Korean government.

No anti-American banners appear in public rally in Pyongyang

That’s why it’s significant that not a single anti-American placard or banner appeared in the photographs and videos of rallies that began in Pyongyang on Jan. 5 and were been held throughout North Korea for several days, rallies organized to express public determination to achieve the plan outlined in the plenary report. This echoes the lack of overt criticism of the US in Kim Kye-gwan’s statement and the fact that he didn’t completely shut the door to negotiations.

“Given the current lack of understanding between South Korea, North Korea, and the US, we need to make use of ‘other routes,’ such as the draft resolution containing partial sanctions relief that China and Russia circulated in the UN Security Council,” the former high-ranking official said.

Kim Kye-gwan responded sardonically to South Korea’s transmission of Trump’s request, remarking that the South Korean authorities “seem not to know that there is a special liaison channel between the top leaders of the DPRK [North Korea] and the US.” He also said the South Koreans had been “too busy” and “presumptuous” and advised them to “behave prudently.” That said, inter-Korean relations per se didn’t come up in the statement. That appears to maintain the line taken in Kim Jong-un’s plenary report, in which he made no mention of inter-Korean relations, at once ignoring South Korea while keeping his options open.

The Blue House and the South Korean government didn’t release an official response on Jan. 12. During a New Year’s press conference scheduled for Jan. 14, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to unveil a plan for improving inter-Korean relations and for restarting and advancing North Korea-US negotiations, based on the line he advocated in his New Year’s speech on Jan. 7. “There’s a greater need to find practical ways to further improve inter-Korean cooperation,” Moon said during that speech.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

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

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