SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un condemned a US offer of dialogue as a “petty trick”, state media reported yesterday, and accused the Joe Biden administration of continuing a hostile policy against his nuclear-armed country. Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been effectively at a standstill since the collapse of a 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and then-president Donald Trump over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
Under Biden, the United States has repeatedly offered to meet North Korean representatives anywhere, at any time, without preconditions, while saying it will seek denuclearisation. But Kim condemned the declarations as “no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts”, the official KCNA news agency reported. The new administration was pursuing “military threats” and a “hostile policy” unchanged from the past, “but employs more cunning ways and methods in doing so”, he said in a lengthy address to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament.
Pyongyang has been largely biding its time in recent months as it assessed the Biden government and focused on domestic issues. It has been behind a rigid self-imposed blockade since early last year to protect itself from the coronavirus pandemic, with the economy suffering as a result and trade with key partner China dwindling to a trickle. But Kim’s speech was the latest in a series of actions with international ramifications this month.
This week, North Korea tested what it said was a hypersonic gliding missile, and earlier this month announced it had successfully fired a long-range cruise missile, after holding a scaled-down military parade. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are banned under UN Security Council resolutions, and it is subject to multiple international sanctions as a result. The United States condemned this week’s launch, but in response to Kim’s comments said it “harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK”-the acronym for the North’s official name.
“We are prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement, reiterating the offer. “We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach.” The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on North Korea, at the request of the United States, France and the United Kingdom, diplomatic sources told AFP Wednesday.
North Korea has not shown any willingness to give up its arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion. Kim’s speech indicated Pyongyang would keep improving its capabilities unless Washington changed course, said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “It has come to a judgment that it has no choice but to get ready for a long-haul approach with the US, meaning it will continue developing strategic weapons while keeping a stable peace mode with the South.”
Washington and Seoul are security allies, and the United States stations around 28,500 troops in the South to protect it from its neighbor. Last month, the two held joint military drills that always infuriate Pyongyang. The North has repeatedly excoriated the South and its President Moon Jae-in since the collapse of the Hanoi summit, and blown up a liaison office on its side of the border that Seoul had built.
At the UN General Assembly this month, Moon reiterated his call for a formal declaration of the end of the Korean War, where hostilities ceased in 1953 with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty. But Kim said the South was “in servitude to the US”, and that an end-of-war declaration could only come with “mutual respect” and an end to the “unfair and double-dealing attitude and hostile viewpoint”.
Nonetheless, he expressed a willingness to restore North-South communication lines in early October. Seoul is also spending billions on military development as both Koreas build up their weapons capabilities in what could become an arms race on the peninsula, with ramifications for neighboring Japan, China and the wider region. This month, South Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) for the first time, making it one of a handful of nations with the advanced technology. This week, it held a ceremony to launch its third submarine capable of carrying SLBMs. – AFP