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Kim Jong Un's Speech Casts Doubt on Nuclear Diplomacy


FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the office building of the Party Central Committee in Pyongyang in this picture taken Sept. 2, 2021, and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.

Analysts say prospects for future nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea are dimming because of Pyonyang's unwillingness to engage in diplomacy with Washington and the Kim Jong Un regime's demand for U.S. concessions.

The experts' assessment comes as North Korea advances its weapons systems with a series of missile tests while it rejects the Biden administration's offer of talks without preconditions.

North Korean leader Kim, in a speech directed to the regime's Supreme People's Assembly on Thursday, accused the United States of pursuing a "hostile policy" toward his country.

"It is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts and an extension of the hostile policy pursued by the successive U.S. administration," Kim said.

North Korea said Wednesday it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile. North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said the "strategic" weapon was one of the "five most important" new weapons systems presented in the country's five-year military development plan.

Pyongyang recently said it had tested rail-launched short-range ballistic missiles for the first time, a move seen by military analysts as an attempt to diversify its launch options. The launches followed the country's test of new long-range cruise missiles presumed to be designed to evade missile-defense radars.

However, in contrast to the harsh rhetoric directed against Washington, Kim offered to restore severed communication channels with Seoul starting in October.

"Kim Jong Un is hoping that (South Korean) President Moon Jae-in will persuade Washington to lift sanctions against North Korea as a condition for resuming U.S.-DPRK negotiations," said Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration. He used the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, said, "Unless the U.S. put something on the table, North Korea is not interested in having discussions for discussion's sake. They're not interested in no-precondition discussions, which is what the U.S. has been offering."

After realizing the Biden administration's unwillingness to make concessions before entering a dialogue, Kim expressed willingness to restore the hotlines with Seoul, Gause said. Kim was "trying to set up a situation where South Korea potentially could be the intermediary that goes between Pyongyang and Washington to figure out what each side is willing to put on the table."

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said North Korea's mention of Washington's "hostile policy" is nothing new.

"It is a code word for ending U.S.-ROK military exercises, the alliance and the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula," he said, using the acronym for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.

"North Korean strategic objectives have not changed, but its tactical approach will now be focused on testing the waters with South Korea in an effort to make gains and divide the allies," said Scott Snyder, director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Snyder said the Biden administration is unlikely to lift sanctions as a condition for Pyongyang's engagement with the U.S.

"The Biden administration probably feels there is no point in offering sanctions relief, because they view sanctions relief as a possible outcome, not an inducement," Snyder said.

'A calibrated, practical approach'

After the North's missile test this week, some members of Congress called on the Biden administration to put more pressure on the regime.

"This apparent missile test is just another example of Kim Jong Un's petulance," Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, told VOA's Korean Service this week. "The Biden administration should resume vigorous enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. Appeasement and silence by President Biden will only invite further provocations."

Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, told VOA's Korean Service, "U.S.-led sanctions would have to continue and be strengthened if North Korea's provocative nuclear and missile tests continue. I strongly urge North Korea to engage in a meaningful and substantive dialogue with the U.S. and our allies."

The U.S. State Department rejected the North Korean claim that the U.S. has been hostile toward the country.

"The United States harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK. Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach, that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces," said a State Department spokesperson in an email to VOA's Korean Service on Wednesday.

"We are prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach," the spokesperson said.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been deadlocked since 2019. Former President Donald Trump rejected Kim's offer to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for sanctions relief when the two met in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019.

The subsequent working-level talks in October of that year broke down, and the stalemate continues as North Korea makes making rapid strides in advancing its missile development.

Jiha Ham and Joeun Lee contributed to this report.

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