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U.S. experts see little or no chance of U.S.-N. Korea dialogue in 2022

All News 02:34 January 07, 2022

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- There is little or no chance of talks between the United States and North Korea this year with both sides refusing to make any significant concessions for dialogue, U.S. experts said Thursday.

They also argued the U.S. will likely be happy to keep the status quo with North Korea despite the North's recent self-claimed hypersonic missile test, as long as Pyongyang does not pose or demonstrate an immediate threat to the U.S.

"The chances of talks with North Korea, sadly, are less than zero," said Harry Kazianis, senior director at the Center for the National Interest, a public policy think tank based in Washington.

"The challenge is that the (Joe) Biden Administration has no political bandwidth to offer any concessions and North Korea won't want to deal from such a weakened position," he told Yonhap News Agency.

North Korean leader Kim Jung-un and American president Joe Biden (Yonhap graphics)

Partly weakening the prospects for the resumption of dialogue with North Korea are the U.S. mid-term elections to be held in November, as well as the South Korean presidential election slated for March, according to the experts.

"I see very little possibility for talks with North Korea and progress toward denuclearization this year unless either the U.S. or North Korea or both sides adopt more flexible approaches to engagement," said Frank Aum, a senior expert on Northeast Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a state-run institution also based in Washington.

The Biden administration has repeatedly offered to meet with North Korea since taking office in January 2021, but Pyongyang has ignored the overtures, citing what it calls U.S. hostility toward the North. North Korea has also stayed away from denuclearization negotiations with the U.S. since late 2019.

North Korea instead has staged nearly a dozen missile tests during the first year of Biden's presidency, with the North's latest missile launch taking place on Wednesday (Seoul time) to test what it claims to be a "newly developed hypersonic missile."

The experts said the missile tests may often be aimed at pressuring the U.S. to make concessions but that the latest tests may also be understood by their face value, given the unlikely chance of any U.S.-North Korea dialogue in the near future.

"We often think every missile test or new weapons role out is somehow a signal to the U.S. or South Korea for some new demand or tactic. I would have to assume that considering the weakened state North Korea is in now, antagonizing the U.S., ROK or China is not in the Kim family's best interest," said Kazianis, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.

"Considering that North Korea does not have much interest in talks and raising tensions now, being in such a weakened state thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns, makes zero sense, I think this resent test is what it is -- a military test," he added.

A state department spokesperson earlier told Yonhap that the U.S. was still assessing the "specific nature" of this Wednesday's missile launch when asked if the launch did in fact have the characteristics of a test for a hypersonic missile, adding that the U.S. takes any new North Korean military capability seriously.

This photo, released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 6, 2022, shows what the North claims to be a new hypersonic missile being launched the previous day, three months after it first showcased the new weapons system. The report came after South Korea's military said the North fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile toward the East Sea from the northern province of Jagang. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Aum insisted the U.S. should adopt a more aggressive approach to quickly engage with North Korea regardless of whether or not Pyongyang is developing new weapons systems.

"Limiting our approach to deterrence and pressure is inadequate to reduce tensions, prevent future crisis, improve relations with North Korea and improve our understanding of the Kim government," he said.

"If the Biden administration is truly invested in different results and tangible progress on the Korean Peninsula, it needs to take more diplomatic risks to incentivize North Korea back to the negotiating table," he added, noting that such steps may include offering COVID-19 vaccines, loosening restrictions on humanitarian aid and declaring a moratorium on the deployment of U.S. strategic and nuclear assets to the Korean Peninsula.

However, Kazianis argued that the U.S. will likely be unable, if not willing, to take such steps.

"At the moment, the United States is consumed by Omicron and domestic political upheaval," he said, referring to the highly contagious variant of the new coronavirus.

"Unless North Korea does something that directly threatens the U.S. homeland like it did back in 2017 -- test ICBMs or detonate a nuclear weapon -- the U.S. will be happy to offer tough sounding statements but nothing that would constrain North Korea's ability to make more advanced weapons."

bdk@yna.co.kr
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