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North warns no talks without sanctions relief

Spate of statements adding to pressure on U.S. ahead of deadline
Nov 20,2019
North Korea on Tuesday warned the United States not to even “dream of” denuclearization talks until the “complete and irrevocable” withdrawal of its hostile policy against Pyongyang, the latest in a series of public statements cranking up pressure before the regime’s end of year deadline.

In a statement published through the official Korean Central News Agency Tuesday morning, Kim Yong-chol, director of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee and the official formerly in charge of relations with Washington, demanded the United States quit its combined military exercises with South Korea, saying the suspension of the aerial drills planned for next month was insufficient to ensure the peace and security needed for diplomatic engagement.

Kim also slammed what he called Washington’s “human rights’ racket,” referring to a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly late last month that condemned human rights abuses in North Korea.

This, as well as the sanctions and pressure “aiming at defaming and stifling” the North, showed the United States was “obsessed with hostility towards” Pyongyang, “seeking to earn time to get out of the critical situation in the run-up to” its year’s end deadline.

“There is no room to say about the negotiation before the complete and irrevocable withdrawal of its hostile policy […] the root cause of the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula,” Kim said. “From now on, [North Korea] will get due compensation for every administrative achievement the U.S. president has talked too much about for over a year.”

North Korean state media also published an interview with the North’s top envoy to the negotiations, Kim Myong-gil, on Tuesday afternoon, in which the envoy said U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun’s offer to resume talks next month delivered through Sweden showed the United States was attempting to save face by using a third country to carry its messages.

These statements follow that put out by the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s adviser Kim Kye-gwan on Monday, who made it clear Pyongyang had no interest in talks that were not beneficial. The statement was in response to an earlier Twitter post from U.S. President Donald Trump that urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to “act quickly” and “get the deal done” ahead of a possible third summit.

Both Kim Yong-chol and Kim Kye-gwan put out nearly simultaneous public statements last week with echoing messages, part of a total of seven official declarations this month coming from the regime’s top officials and organizations critical of Washington’s so-called hostile policy.

As much as these pronouncements testify to Pyongyang’s frustration over a persistent stalemate in nuclear negotiations, which have yet to resume since the breakdown of working-level talks in Stockholm early last month, they also show its unwillingness to accept concessions that do not involve the removal of threats to its “security and development,” as Kim Yong-chol mentioned on Tuesday.

In an earlier statement from last week, Kim Myong-gil suggested that only sanctions relief and a permanent measure to assure its regime security would suffice to meet those conditions, unlike a “war-end declaration, which may reduce to a dead document any moment with change of situation, and with other matters of secondary importance like the establishment of a liaison office.”

Yet the question of sanctions relief has been anathema for Washington in its dialogue with Pyongyang, meaning any resumption of talks next month could prove just as unsuccessful as prior meetings in Stockholm last month and Hanoi in February.

According to South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who discussed the ongoing process with Biegun at the State Department in Washington on Tuesday, the United States was “taking many things into consideration to make the negotiations successful,” though he was mum on details.

Official rhetoric coming from North Korea, meanwhile, appears to be aimed at exploiting the domestic political situation in the United States in the wake of Trump’s Ukraine scandal and the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Pyongyang’s recent references to Trump and his propensity to flaunt the talks with North Korea as a major policy achievement suggest that if Pyongyang does not have its demands met, it could very well reverse Kim Jong-un’s promises to halt nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and return the peninsula to a state of tension.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]