US puts ball in Pyongyang’s court instead of actively seeking dialogue

Posted on : 2021-05-07 16:59 KST Modified on : 2021-05-07 16:59 KST
Momentum for North Korea-US talks won’t come by anytime soon
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves his hand as he arrives at a G7 meeting held in London on Tuesday and Wednesday. (EPA/Yonhap News)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves his hand as he arrives at a G7 meeting held in London on Tuesday and Wednesday. (EPA/Yonhap News)

At a meeting of senior officials from the G7 countries that was held in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, the US nailed down support for its recent review of North Korea policy, laying the groundwork for an international diplomatic tussle with the North. While North Korea is currently ignoring the US’s feelers, the Blue House has said it hopes that the South Korea-US summit on May 21 will lead to a quick resumption of dialogue between North Korea and the US and between South Korea and the North.

In a communiqué following the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting, the G7 countries said, “We remain committed to the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of all of [North Korea’s] unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programmes. [. . . ] We welcome the readiness of the United States to continue its efforts in that regard and we remain committed to providing support.”

That represented a robust expression of support for the Biden administration’s new North Korea policy. On April 30, the White House summarized that policy as representing a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to [. . .] diplomacy,” with the goal of “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

While the Biden administration managed to line up international support for its new North Korea policy at the conference, momentum for North Korea-US talks will likely be harder to come by.

Josh Rogin, foreign affairs and national security columnist for the Washington Post, published a column on Wednesday titled “Biden’s North Korea Strategy: Hurry Up and Wait.” In the column, he cited two senior officials in the US government as saying that the Biden administration had attempted to convey the results of its North Korea policy review to Pyongyang, but that the North Koreans haven’t responded.

Rogin quoted another senior official as saying that the Biden administration didn’t currently plan to fill the State Department position of special representative to North Korea, the person in charge of heading up negotiations with the North. Rogin’s impression is that “North Korea ranks low on the list of Biden’s priorities.”

“It is [. . .] up to North Korea to decide whether it wants to engage or not,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday. “We’ll look to see not only what North Korea says but what it actually does in the coming days and months.”

Instead of actively seeking to bring North Korea to the table for dialogue, the US seems to be putting the ball in Pyongyang’s court.

But North Korea’s circumstances suggest that it’s unlikely to accept the offers of dialogue tendered by the US. Following the failure of the second North Korea-US summit, held in Hanoi, Vietnam, at the end of February 2019, the North declared a course of “self-reliance” while making the basic demand for the US to retract its “policy of hostility.”

And in the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea this past January, Pyongyang unveiled a return to its two-track policy of self-reliance along with a stronger nuclear capability that includes tactical nuclear weapons.

The South Korean government reaffirmed its intention to focus diplomatic efforts on resuming the Korean Peninsula peace process.

In a Thursday meeting of the standing committee of the National Security Council, the Blue House said, “Our assessment is that the US’s review of North Korea policy concluded in a realistic and practical way by focusing on diplomacy through close cooperation with South Korea.”

“We’ve decided to continue strengthening communication and cooperation with related countries with the goal of quickly resuming dialogue between North Korea and the US and between South and North Korea.”

With that in mind, Seoul plans to hold close consultations with the US, including the summit scheduled for May 21.

“The Korean Peninsula peace process, which seeks to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, is key to the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region,” South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said during an earlier meeting as he asked the G7 countries for their support and cooperation.

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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