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(LEAD) N.K. defector-turned-lawmaker says U.S.-N.K. summit unlikely before Nov. election

All News 06:27 August 13, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks by Thae in last 5 paras)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean defector-turned-lawmaker said Wednesday that he doesn't believe a U.S.-North Korea is summit is likely before the U.S. presidential election in November.

Thae Yong-ho, former North Korean deputy ambassador to Britain and now a member of South Korea's National Assembly, also questioned the likelihood of a major provocation by the North within that timeframe.

"I don't think an October surprise summit or any summit between the U.S. and North Korea is likely," he said from Seoul during a webinar hosted by The Heritage Foundation in Washington.

This file photo shows Rep. Thae Yong-ho of South Korea's main opposition United Future Party. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows Rep. Thae Yong-ho of South Korea's main opposition United Future Party. (Yonhap)

The forecast, he said, is largely based on a July 10 statement issued by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong. The statement had dismissed a fourth meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump as "not needed" and "not beneficial" for North Korea as long as the U.S. sticks to its negotiating positions.

In particular, Thae interpreted Kim Yo-jong's words that another summit "should not be accepted" as a message that the North Korean leader is unlikely to agree to a meeting short of concrete results.

"Even though President Trump last week said that he would make deals with North Korea very quickly if reelected, still, President Trump did not state his clear terms of a deal," he said. "So North Korea may regard last week's Trump statement as a kind of President Trump's campaign strategy to prevent Kim Jong-un from intervening in the election by military provocations."

Thae also cast doubt on the possibility of a strategic provocation, such as a nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test, by North Korea.

"Kim Jong-un understands well that reelection of President Trump would be the best chance of cutting a deal in favor of Kim Jong-un," he said. "I cannot think Kim Jong-un will do anything provocative that might hurt Trump's chance of winning. Kim Jong-un still believes that if President Trump wins reelection, there is certainly a possibility for progress on denuclearization deal and it is very worth the effort to try."

Trump and Kim have met three times to try and reach a deal on dismantling the North's nuclear weapons program in exchange for U.S. concessions, including sanctions relief.

But negotiations between the two countries have stalled since the leaders' second summit in February 2019 ended without a deal.

Thae went further to say that a major provocation is unlikely because Kim Yo-jong did not fully rule out the resumption of talks with the U.S. in her statement.

Not only did she request a DVD of July 4 celebrations in the U.S., which Thae said was "really rare," she also said the North doesn't have the slightest intention to pose a threat to the U.S. and that everything will go smoothly as long as the U.S. does not provoke the North.

Moreover, Thae said, North Korea's domestic situation is not conducive to launching provocations, with difficulties in food supply and containing COVID-19.

A provocation would also upset China at a time when Kim may need to request urgent economic and other assistance from Beijing, he said.

At the same time, North Korea appears to be continuing its development of strategic weapons and making progress, Thae added, pointing to the "very quick" promotions of Ri Pyong-chol, vice chairman of the Workers' Party Central Military Commission, and Pak Jong-chon, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army.


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