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North Korea likely to return to nuclear dialogue table with US

Kim Myong-gil, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, answers questions from reporters at the Beijing Capital International Airport en route to Pyongyang after ending a working-level dialogue with the United States, Monday. Yonhap
Kim Myong-gil, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, answers questions from reporters at the Beijing Capital International Airport en route to Pyongyang after ending a working-level dialogue with the United States, Monday. Yonhap

By Lee Min-hyung

North Korea will return to nuclear disarmament talks with the United States despite last week's breakdown in Sweden, as it intentionally made the decision to leave the first negotiations early to increase its political leverage, experts said Monday.

Ending a months-long hiatus in their denuclearization dialogue, officials from Washington and Pyongyang met in Stockholm amid expectations of a possible breakthrough in the suspended talks.

But Pyongyang declared a breakdown just hours after the meeting started in the Swedish capital. It stepped up criticism of Washington for sticking to an "old-fashioned" attitude, even after the fiasco of the failed Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February.

Local experts said such rhetoric was nothing more than a "politically-calculated" message for a bigger outcome in future talks with the U.S.

"My view is that both sides will resume their talks in the next few weeks following instructions from their leaders," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said. "One thing that is clear is both sides have expressed their willingness to talk, so will not end the negotiations due to a single incident in Stockholm," he added.

Jeong Se-hyun, deputy chairman of the presidential National Unification Advisory Council, said in a local radio interview that the North made the "strategic decision" to step up pressure on the U.S. to get it to change its negotiating style.

"This is part of its brinkmanship tactics to drive a change in attitude in the U.S. no later than the end of the year," Jeong said. "It appears the North decided that it did not have to accept demands from the U.S. at this time, and instead, moved to raise the bar to achieve something more."

The government here remained optimistic over the prospects of the nuclear disarmament dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

"The recent meeting, in itself, comes with significance, as both sides were able to clarify each other's positions after their seven-month-long break in talks in the wake of the Hanoi breakdown," a Ministry of Unification official said. "For this reason, it is too early to say that the momentum for the talks has been halted."

An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Seoul would continue to play a mediating role to keep the momentum alive.

"The government will work closely with the U.S. to maintain the dialogue momentum with the North," he said.

Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's top nuclear envoy and the counterpart of U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun, left for Washington D.C. for talks with Biegun, who led the working-level talks with the North.

Lee will be briefed on the outcome of the talks, and discuss plans to generate practical and tangible achievements for sustainable peace and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to the foreign ministry.



Kim Myong-gil, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, answers questions from reporters at the Beijing Capital International Airport en route to Pyongyang after ending a working-level dialogue with the United States, Monday. Yonhap
Kim Myong-gil, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, answers questions from reporters at the Beijing Capital International Airport en route to Pyongyang after ending a working-level dialogue with the United States, Monday. Yonhap

By Lee Min-hyung

North Korea will return to nuclear disarmament talks with the United States despite last week's breakdown in Sweden, as it intentionally made the decision to leave the first negotiations early to increase its political leverage, experts said Monday.

Ending a months-long hiatus in their denuclearization dialogue, officials from Washington and Pyongyang met in Stockholm amid expectations of a possible breakthrough in the suspended talks.

But Pyongyang declared a breakdown just hours after the meeting started in the Swedish capital. It stepped up criticism of Washington for sticking to an "old-fashioned" attitude, even after the fiasco of the failed Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February.

Local experts said such rhetoric was nothing more than a "politically-calculated" message for a bigger outcome in future talks with the U.S.

"My view is that both sides will resume their talks in the next few weeks following instructions from their leaders," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said. "One thing that is clear is both sides have expressed their willingness to talk, so will not end the negotiations due to a single incident in Stockholm," he added.

Jeong Se-hyun, deputy chairman of the presidential National Unification Advisory Council, said in a local radio interview that the North made the "strategic decision" to step up pressure on the U.S. to get it to change its negotiating style.

"This is part of its brinkmanship tactics to drive a change in attitude in the U.S. no later than the end of the year," Jeong said. "It appears the North decided that it did not have to accept demands from the U.S. at this time, and instead, moved to raise the bar to achieve something more."

The government here remained optimistic over the prospects of the nuclear disarmament dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

"The recent meeting, in itself, comes with significance, as both sides were able to clarify each other's positions after their seven-month-long break in talks in the wake of the Hanoi breakdown," a Ministry of Unification official said. "For this reason, it is too early to say that the momentum for the talks has been halted."

An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Seoul would continue to play a mediating role to keep the momentum alive.

"The government will work closely with the U.S. to maintain the dialogue momentum with the North," he said.

Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's top nuclear envoy and the counterpart of U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun, left for Washington D.C. for talks with Biegun, who led the working-level talks with the North.

Lee will be briefed on the outcome of the talks, and discuss plans to generate practical and tangible achievements for sustainable peace and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to the foreign ministry.



Lee Min-hyung mhlee@koreatimes.co.kr


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