President Joe Biden’s point man for North Korea is set to hold talks with nuclear envoys from South Korea and Japan in a bit to build a united front pushing to end Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.
Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, is scheduled to hold discussions Monday morning in Seoul with South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk and Japan’s Takehiro Funakoshi, just days after North Korea’s leader said the country could be open for talks with Washington.
Sung Kim, a career diplomat who has worked on North Korea-related issues under Republican and Democratic administrations, will be trying to bring Pyongyang back to the table after leader Kim Jong Un’s regime in March called U.S. attempts for communication a “time-delaying trick.”
Kim Jong Un said at a major meeting of his ruling party last week that he’s ready for “both dialogue and confrontation.” The comments during a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party of Korea were the first high-level suggestion of talks since Biden replaced Donald Trump, who met Kim three times.
Kim Jong Un tempered the remarks with a call for his country to “get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests,” according to a Friday report from the state’s official Korean Central News Agency.
One of the major messages Kim delivered at the meeting was the need to improve the economy, offering a rare warning of dire conditions by saying the food situation was “getting tense.” North Korea battles chronic food shortages. Conditions were made worse by typhoons last year that wiped out crops and by Kim’s decision to shut borders due to COVID-19, slamming the brakes on the little legal trade it has.
North Korea’s economy will barely grow in 2021 after its worst contraction in decades as the country continues to struggle with the pandemic, international sanctions to punish it for its nuclear and missile testing and a lack of trade with China, Fitch Solutions said in April.
The Trump administration demanded the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea before it would ease up on sanctions. The demand was a non-starter for North Korea, which calculates that nuclear arms will prevent a U.S. invasion and abandoning them as tantamount to political suicide.
The Biden administration has indicated it could be willing to look at an incremental approach where it gives targeted rewards in return for disarmament steps.
While the nuclear talks sputtered under Trump, Kim was busy adding to his arsenal of fissile material and missiles to deliver warheads to the U.S. and its allies, increasing his bargaining power.
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