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(News Focus) N.K. leader puts onus on Trump to resolve nuclear impasse

Diplomacy 05:26 January 02, 2019

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un passed the buck to U.S. President Donald Trump to break the deadlock in nuclear negotiations with concessions or watch the process collapse, U.S. analysts said Tuesday.

Kim said in his New Year's speech that he is committed to achieving "complete denuclearization" as agreed during his first summit with Trump in June. And he indicated that the regime has stopped making nuclear weapons and that he is ready to meet Trump again at any time.

But the North Korean leader also made clear that he has no plans to take any more steps than those he has taken so far.

And if the U.S. tests the North's patience with continued sanctions and pressure, he said, "we may be compelled to find a new way" to defend the nation's interests and bring peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula.

This photo distributed by the Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivering a New Year's address at an office in Pyongyang on Jan. 1, 2019. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution.) (Yonhap)

"There was something for everyone in Kim's speech -- enough positive statements to affirm in some minds that the North Korean leader is a force for peace on the peninsula and that Washington must offer yet more concessions to maintain diplomatic momentum," Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation, told Yonhap.

"But as is characteristic of the North Korean regime, Kim blamed others for the diplomatic impasse, imposed heavy conditions on his seemingly constructive offers, and threatened to 'seek a new path to protect the sovereignty of the country and the nation's best interests.' In short, Kim extended an olive branch, but with very sharp thorns," he said.

Trump, who has touted progress with the North and heaped praise on Kim, has yet to respond to the message.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Yonhap: "We decline the opportunity to comment."

Ken Gause, a North Korea expert at CNA Corp., said Kim's words were exactly in line with his expectations.

"The speech was designed to put the ball in the U.S. court," he said. "North Korea is done making concessions. Now we have to wait for the White House's response to see how we will move forward."

This image from North Korean state TV shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivering a New Year's speech at an office in Pyongyang on Jan. 1, 2019. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution.) (Yonhap)

The Trump administration has maintained that sanctions and pressure must remain in place until the North completely abandons its nuclear program.

Gause said that won't lend itself to a solution.

"Denuclearization cannot come on the front end of engagement as the U.S. wants," he said. "It must be embedded in a reciprocal process of give and take."

Robert Manning, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said he sees trouble ahead without a concession from Trump but also potentially in the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

Kim is "trying to drive a wedge" between the U.S. and South Korea by calling for the reopening of the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong, which will require an easing of sanctions, and also by moving South-North cooperation projects ahead before any denuclearization or "even declaring his nuclear inventory."

Trump has said he plans to meet Kim for a second summit this month or next month.

But North Korean officials have not appeared willing to meet with their U.S. counterparts to discuss any substantive or logistical preparations.

The last time U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to meet senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol, in November, the talks were called off at a day's notice.

"Without a framework for the two leaders to conclude at a summit, there is little reason to believe the next summit will be more successful than the last," said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

"For now, it appears the stalemate between Washington and Pyongyang will continue, but the situation is brittle and could collapse suddenly. Both the U.S. and the South Korean negotiations depend on the U.S. reaching a modest interim agreement to build momentum for subsequent rounds," he said.

hague@yna.co.kr
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