Experts See North Korea Avoid Nuclear Talks As Economic Crisis Worsens

Experts see the prospects for nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang darken as North Korea struggles to continue its nuclear and missile programs as its economy collapses.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un spoke at a five-day meeting of his Workers’ Party without any mention of engagement with the United States or South Korea.

Neither the regime’s usual critical tone of “hostile policies” of the United States nor any diplomatic overture was present in Kim’s speech at Party meetings reported by the regime’s state media, the Central Agency. Korean Press (KCNA).

Kim said North Korea will continue to strengthen its military capabilities to respond to “the growing instability of the military situation on the Korean Peninsula and international circumstances,” which KCNA reported on Saturday.

In response to Kim’s speech, the US State Department told VOA’s Korean service on Tuesday that Washington would continue efforts to engage Pyongyang.

“The United States remains committed to achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK,” a State Department spokesperson said, using the acronym for Korea’s official name. of the North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“To this end, we will continue to seek engagement with the DPRK as part of a calibrated and practical approach in order to achieve tangible progress that strengthens the security of the United States, our allies and our deployed forces,” he said. declared the spokesperson.

The State Department spokesman also said that the United States has no hostile intentions towards North Korea, is ready to reunite without preconditions and hopes that the DPRK responds positively to its sensitization.

Nuclear talks between the two countries have been deadlocked since October 2019.

Prospects for talks darken

Robert Manning, Principal Investigator at the Atlantic Council, said: “[Kim’s] message does not suggest any new openness to nuclear diplomacy.

Joshua Pollack, senior research associate at Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, said North Korea’s main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon “appears to be operating right now, which isn’t usually a sign that executives are eager to negotiate “.

Washington’s efforts to start nuclear talks with Pyongyang could become more difficult as North Korea continues to develop its nuclear and missile capabilities, according to Soo Kim, political analyst at the RAND Corporation.

Kim’s emphasis on building North Korea’s military capability “suggests [he] remains on the path to strengthening its nuclear influence over its counterparts – if and when another negotiating opportunity presents itself, ”said Soo Kim.

“In fact, it may become increasingly difficult for the United States and South Korea to negotiate as North Korea continues to expand its range of nuclear and missile capabilities. Kim has a vested interest in the weapons program and is therefore unlikely to abandon them on Washington’s terms, ”Soo Kim continued.

North Korea tested a ballistic missile on Wednesday, according to the South Korean and American military.

North Korea conducted a series of advanced missile launches in September and October, including its rail and submarine missiles.

Economic challenges

North Korea’s first launch in 2022 comes even as Kim said in his speech that his diet will focus on improving its economy, marked by severe food shortages.

Kim promised “to increase agricultural production and completely solve food problems, according to the KCNA on Saturday.

Evans Revere, a former State Department official with extensive experience in negotiations with North Korea, said North Korea’s economic and food situation may be “more unfavorable and critical” than the speech describes. by Kim.

“If things in North Korea are as serious as [his speech] implies, he is actually arguing for North Korea to reach out to the United States, the Republic of Korea and the international community in an attempt to resolve its economic problems and its food situation, ”Revere said.

“But the price Kim Jong Un would have to pay for such a commitment would be the willingness to put its nuclear and missile programs on the table and address the concerns of the United States and others about these programs,” Revere added. .

Revere, however, said there was no indication Kim was ready to trade off his nuclear and missile programs because he emphasized self-sufficiency rather than seeking outside help.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, said Kim was not eager to further overburden the already fragile economy by testing a nuclear weapon or long-range missile that could reach the United States.

“Right now, I see no chance of Kim testing any substance weapons America is worried about, like an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] or a nuclear weapon, ”Kazianis said. “Kim doesn’t want any more economic pressure on him, neither does he want to endanger any [economic] help from China it needs more than ever.

Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analysis program at CNA, said Kim is unlikely to test weapons that elicit strong reactions from the United States and China “unless [he is] ready to use as a gateway into engagement.

VOA Korean service reporter Jiha Ham contributed to this report.

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