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(News Focus) N. Korea employs high-pressure tactics in nuke talks with U.S.

North Korea 11:12 October 07, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 7 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be resorting to high-pressure tactics in its relaunched nuclear talks with the United States, as evidenced by its tough rhetoric, open display of displeasure and threats to resume its nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Pyongyang apparently sought to secure the higher ground in the negotiations, where security guarantees and economic concessions for the regime are at stake, but raised doubts over whether it is fully ready for a give-and-take process that would require its own disarmament concessions as well, analysts said.

Hours after the working-level talks with his U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun in Sweden on Saturday, the North's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong-gil, claimed that the negotiations broke down due to Washington's failure to put forward a new proposal.

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator Kim Myong-gil speaks to the press upon arriving in Beijing on Oct. 7, 2019, after nuclear talks with his U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun in Sweden. (Yonhap)

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator Kim Myong-gil speaks to the press upon arriving in Beijing on Oct. 7, 2019, after nuclear talks with his U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun in Sweden. (Yonhap)

It stood in stark contrast with the U.S. State Department's characterization of the talks as "good" discussions where Washington claimed without elaboration to have brought "creative ideas" and previewed a number of "new initiatives."

On Sunday, an unnamed spokesperson of the North's foreign ministry said that Pyongyang has no intention to hold such "sickening" negotiations before the U.S. takes a "substantial step" to implement the complete and irreversible withdrawal of a "hostile policy" against it.

"The North appears to be making maximum demands to the U.S. in its own version of an 'all-or-nothing' strategy," Park Won-gon, professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said.

"One likely scenario would be that with the maximum demands, Pyongyang would try to extract as many concessions from the U.S. as possible, and if that is impossible, then it may hopefully give an inch a little bit," he added.

Saturday's nuclear talks marked the first formal negotiations since February's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un collapsed due to gaps over the extent of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.

After the talks with Biegun, the North's top negotiator Kim repeated Pyongyang's "clear position" that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is possible only after "all obstacles" that threaten the security of his country and hamper its development are "clearly and undoubtedly" removed.

Such demands are largely seen as Pyongyang's renewed calls for America's security assurances for its regime that will remain steadfast regardless of any change of government in Washington and for a lifting or easing of crippling international sanctions.

A source of concern is the vagueness in the North's call to remove "all obstacles" and a "hostile policy," as it could mean the withdrawal of American troops on the peninsula and abolition of major South Korea-U.S. military exercises that could undercut the decadeslong bilateral alliance system.

It remains unclear what "creative ideas" the U.S. delegation presented at the weekend talks, but the North's delegation chief stressed that it did not live up to the regime's expectations, while accusing the U.S. of having come to the negotiation table "empty handed."

News reports said that Washington could offer a three-year suspension of United Nations sanctions on textile and coal exports if Pyongyang agrees to dismantle its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon and halt its production of highly enriched uranium.

Speculation has also arisen that if the U.N. is not willing to follow the U.S. move on the possible suspension scheme, the U.S. could temporarily halt its enforcement of those sanctions.

But Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha Womans University in Seoul pointed out that a sanctions suspension move in exchange for a small deal would make a mockery of the international sanctions regime.

"The United States would not offer to violate U.N. Security Council Resolutions for the benefit of a small deal with North Korea. Sanctions relief in exchange for progress on denuclearization will require international coordination," he said.

What might unnerve the U.S. is Pyongyang's apparent indication that it could reconsider its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests if its demands are not met.

"Whether our suspension of the nuclear and ICBM tests will continue or they will be revived will depend wholly on the U.S. stance," the North's top negotiator said in response to a reporter's question of whether the moratorium will remain in place.

Trump has regarded the moratorium as one of his key foreign policy coups while downplaying the North's recent series of short-range projectile launches that fell short of breaking that moratorium and did not pose direct threats to the continental U.S.

But the veiled threat to rethink the moratorium could create unease in Washington as Trump is seeking to focus on a reelection battle fraught with challenges, including a congressional impeachment inquiry.

In Seoul, officials attach special meaning to the restart of diplomatic engagement between Washington and Pyongyang after a monthslong hiatus caused by gaps in their negotiation positions and tensions over a South Korea-U.S. combined military exercise in August.

Despite the North's declaration of the latest negotiation as a breakdown, there were some positive signs from the talks.

The North's top negotiator Kim appears to have a greater mandate in handling the denuclearization issue given that he and Biegun discussed the nuclear issue in their first nuclear parley.

His predecessor Kim Hyock-chol was known to have no wiggle room in discussing Pyongyang's disarmament -- a source of frustration for the U.S. negotiation team and possibly a reason why little progress was made in the nuclear talks before the Hanoi summit.


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