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North Korea is not eager to meet with U.S., say sources

Nov 26,2018
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been pushing to hold high-level talks with Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, by this month, but there is a high likelihood that it won’t happen this week, according to a diplomatic source.

“North Korea is not likely to respond affirmatively to holding high-level talks by this weekend,” a high-level diplomatic source in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo over phone on Saturday. “Currently, there is a high likelihood that the meeting will be rescheduled for after the Group of 20 summit on Dec. 1 in Argentina.”

North Korea has yet to give a response to Washington’s proposal to hold the high-level talks on either Tuesday or Wednesday, and U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to take part in the G-20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, which kicks off on Friday and will also be attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

High-level talks between Pompeo and Kim scheduled for Nov. 8 in New York were canceled at the last minute and postponed to a later date, reportedly on Pyongyang’s request.

But North Korea continuing to avoid the talks indicates that it may have some reason.

A North Korea source said, “Unlike when the Nov. 8 talks in New York were being scheduled, there doesn’t appear to be any movement in North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York or in Beijing, to indicate that North Korea doesn’t plan on responding to the talks.”

A U.S. State Department official also said on Saturday that there aren’t any plans to announce talks with the North at the moment.

Last week, the United States granted a sanctions waiver for an inter-Korean joint survey to reconnect cross-border railways, which was backed by the United Nations Security Council Saturday.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said last Wednesday that the South Korea-U.S. Foal Eagle joint exercise scheduled for next week will be scaled down “to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy.”

These can be considered Washington’s confidence-building gestures to create an atmosphere to conduct talks with the North.

With a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the works for January, holding preparatory talks to fine-tune the exact date, location and agenda are still needed.

Kim Jong-un was also supposed to make a return trip to Seoul by the end of the year as agreed upon during President Moon’s visit to Pyongyang in September. However, North Korea’s reluctance to hold high-level and working-level talks could indicate a complicated domestic political situation.

“A return trip to Seoul and a second North-U.S. summit can be political pressure for the North, and at the same time, it may not have sufficient capability to prepare for them,” said another source familiar with North Korea affairs. “Kim’s plan initially was to hold the North-U.S. summit and then make a return trip to Seoul, but the jumbled order and the fact that there is not much to show is a big issue.”

In the inter-Korean Pyongyang Declaration of Sept. 19, Kim agreed to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex if Washington takes corresponding measures, but neither side seems ready to take any action.

The North Korea source said, “North Korea is publically requesting sanctions relief, which Washington cannot agree to, instead of declarating an end to the [1950-53] Korean War which could be circumstantial evidence that there is great internal backlash over the dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear complex.”

This comes as Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned on Thursday that the IAEA observed continued activities at the Yongbyon light water reactor consistent with the fabrication of reactor components and the possible transfer of these components into the reactor building.

Amano said that “without access the agency cannot confirm the nature and purpose of these activities.”

BY JUNG HYO-SIK [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]