By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea could engage in military provocations to show discontent over its unproductive nuclear talks with the United States next year and may drift farther away from its stated commitment to denuclearization, a local think tank said Tuesday.
In its forecast of international politics for 2020, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies also said that amid a strategic Sino-U.S. rivalry, the major powers could focus on "managing" the status quo rather than cooperating actively in charting a solution to the North's nuclear quandary.
The institute, moreover, painted a gloomy outlook for inter-Korean relations as Pyongyang may rail against the South's intermediary role between the U.S. and the North, and shift the blame to the South for the limited progress in their nuclear negotiations.
"Given that the North's military saber-rattling is an expression of its discontent over its stalemated talks with the U.S., the North is expected to launch additional provocations," the institute said in its forecast.
"The North Koreans may accentuate the South Korean government's 'wrong' role as an intermediary as one of the reasons for the breakdown of the negotiation," it added.
Despite the possibilities of the North's military provocations, chances for a nuclear test remain low, as the North has already accumulated "considerable" weapons technologies, the institute said.
The U.S. and the North last held nuclear negotiations in Sweden in October. The talks ended fruitlessly with Pyongyang accusing Washington of having come to the dialogue table "empty handed."
The North has recently launched a series of relatively low-intensity provocations, including a submarine launched ballistic missile, as it has threatened to take a "new way" unless the U.S. makes concessions before its self-imposed year-end deadline.
The institute pointed out that the nuclear negotiation has gradually been progressing into talks about nuclear arms control rather than about nuclear disarmament.
"Year 2020 will be a year when we have to admit that the North is slipping farther away from the denuclearization goal," it added.
The stalemate in the nuclear talks between the U.S. and the North will continue to remain a key hurdle to the inter-Korean ties, the institute said, as the North believes cross-border ties are "subordinated" to its relations with the U.S.
"In next year, one may have to worry about a new period of tensions in inter-Korean relations rather than anticipating progress. From next year onward, the North would walk its own way by stepping up its criticism of the U.S. and the South," it said.
"Internally, it may forestall a deterioration of its economy by stressing self-reliance while externally, it may seek to escape diplomatic isolation by improving ties with China and Russia," it added.
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