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(News Focus) Remarks by N.K. leader's sister dim prospects of Trump-Kim meeting before Nov. U.S. election

All News 11:43 July 10, 2020

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) -- The prospects of another summit between the United States and North Korea this year dimmed further Friday, as the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un doubted its possibility and signaled Pyongyang is looking beyond the U.S. election in November.

Kim Yo-jong said that another summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is neither needed or beneficial if the U.S. does not show "decisive change" in its negotiation stance, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

But she left the door open for on-again, off-again nuclear diplomacy with the U.S. in her cryptic statement that also called for Washington to take "irreversible simultaneous major steps" and drop "hostile policy" toward the communist state.

The remarks by the powerful sister of the North Korean leader came after Trump showed openness to another summit and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is "very hopeful" about continuing dialogue with Pyongyang.

"I am of the view that the DPRK-U.S. summit talks is not needed this year and beyond, and for our part, it is not beneficial to us unless the U.S. shows decisive change in its stand," Kim Yo-jong said, accusing Washington of trying to use talks to "buy time and prevent political disasters."

DPRK stands for the North's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"Moreover, I think that we should not accept an offer of the summit talks this year, no matter how badly the U.S. wants it, far from talking about its possibility," she added.

Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)

But in a positive sign that Pyongyang still latches on to nuclear diplomacy, Kim said: "We would like to make it clear that it does not necessarily mean the denuclearization is not possible. But what we mean is that it is not possible at this point of time."

The idea of another summit gained traction as President Moon Jae-in voiced his desire to broker it last week following a rise in cross-border tensions caused by the North's surprise demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office and military threats and harsh rhetoric.

But Pyongyang officials, including First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, have repeatedly spurned possibilities of dialogue with Washington, voicing suspicion that the U.S. has a political intent in its pursuit of talks ahead of the presidential election.

North Korea -- under a dynastic ruling system governed by the third-generation hereditary ruler -- has always been wary of any denuclearization deal that could change or be undone due to a change of government in the U.S.

Kim Yo-jong made these concerns clear again, stressing that her country has to deal not only with Trump but also the "succeeding U.S. administration, and the U.S. at large."

"The personal feelings of Comrade Chairman (Kim) towards President Trump is undoubtedly good and solid, but our government should not adjust its tactics on the U.S. and our nuclear program depending upon the relations with the U.S. president," she said.

Her remarks came after Trump said in an interview with Gray Television on Tuesday, "I understand they want to meet and we would certainly do that." He also added, "I would do it if I thought it was going to be helpful."

Pyongyang's rejection of dialogue possibilities came amid growing uncertainty over the prospects of Trump winning a second term in the November election.

Trump has been under criticism for his handling of the new coronavirus, the pandemic's economic fallout and not to mention anti-racism sentiment that has surged since the police killing of an unarmed African-American citizen in Minneapolis in May.

"Kim's remarks indicate that chances are little that the North would return to the negotiating table, as it can hardly foresee how the U.S. presidential election will pan out," said Park Won-gon, professor of international politics at Handong Global University.

Further darkening the prospects of the nuclear negotiations are Pyongyang's repeated calls for the withdrawal of "hostile policy" -- a vaguely worded demand that could mean the lifting of economic sanctions and the ending of U.S.-South Korea defense exercises and of America's deployment of strategic military assets to the peninsula.

"I believe that the previous theme of the DPRK-U.S. negotiations, that is, 'denuclearization measures versus lifting of sanctions' should be changed into a formula of 'withdrawal of hostility versus resumption of DPRK-U.S. negotiations," Kim Yo-jong said.

Some observers said that the North's tougher stance may be aimed at heaping pressure on the U.S. to show flexibility to move their stalled negotiations forward, as Pyongyang faces tough economic challenges caused by the sanctions and pandemic.

Making progress in nuclear talks with the U.S. to secure sanctions relief appears to be a pressing agenda for the North, as public anger over deepening economic woes could chip away at the legitimacy of the North Korean ruler.

But it remains unlikely that Trump would make any major concession that would trigger a domestic political backlash ahead of the election -- a reason why many argue he will focus on "maintaining the status quo" in relations with the North.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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