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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 13)

All News 06:59 January 13, 2020

Gloom over dialogue
North Korea scoffs at Trump's conciliatory gesture

The United States and North Korea are expected to enter a prolonged stalemate in their nuclear talks as Pyongyang has hardened its stance over how it will denuclearize. On Saturday, former North Korean chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan made it clear that his country would not resume dialogue unless the U.S. fully accepted its demands.

Kim, now a foreign ministry adviser, said the North would never engage in negotiations to shutter key nuclear facilities only for partial sanctions relief. He implied that his country would not repeat the mistake of the Hanoi summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in February 2019 which ended in failure.

His remarks are seen as the North moving to put greater pressure on the U.S. to meet its demands: sanctions relief and security guarantees. Pyongyang has repeatedly called on Washington to come up with a new method, while also threatening to take a "new path."

The North received Trump's message of congratulations for Kim Jong-un's Jan. 8 birthday. The regime, however, scoffed at Trump's conciliatory gesture, which was apparently aimed at restarting the nuclear talks.

Adviser Kim said relations between the two leaders of the North and the U.S. were "not bad." But he noted that the leaders' friendly ties were not sufficient to revive the deadlocked talks. "There is no need for us to be present at such talks, in which there is only unilateral pressure, and we have no desire to barter something for other things at the talks like traders," he said.

The North's demands for more concessions from the U.S. are not new. However, they cast a darker cloud over prospects for nuclear disarmament. In his speech to the 5th Plenary Meeting of the ruling Workers' Party 7th Central Committee, Kim mentioned "new strategic weapons," hinting at rescinding his moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests.

As things stand now, it is difficult for Trump to keep the dialogue momentum as part of efforts to boost his re-election bid. He does not seem to have much room to maneuver, given that he faces more pressing issues, such as his impeachment and rising tensions with Iran. It remains to be seen how he will respond to the North's demands.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is also feared to have suffered a setback in his efforts to be a mediator in the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks. In his New Year speech, Moon invited Kim to visit the South and called for dialogue to discuss joint economic projects and exchanges between the two Koreas. But for now, the Kim regime has no intention of accommodating Moon's peace overtures.

Despite the impasse, Pyongyang needs to keep the door open to dialogue not only with Washington but also Seoul. It should not try to turn the clock back to complete its nuclear program. Kim must realize that nuclear weapons cannot guarantee the North's survival. They will only deepen the North's isolation and may lead to its self-destruction. It is up to Kim whether his country moves toward peace and prosperity or not.

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