Korean News Agency / AP
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his government to prepare for dialogue and confrontation with the Biden administration — but more for confrontation, state media reported Friday. The move comes just days after the United States and other countries urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and return to talks.
Kim’s statement suggests he will likely push to bolster his nuclear arsenal and increase pressure on Washington to abandon what North Korea sees as hostile US policy, although he will also prepare to resume talks, some experts say.
During the ongoing ruling party meeting on Thursday, Kim made a detailed analysis of the political trends of the United States under President Joe Biden and outlined unspecified steps to be taken in relations with Washington, the Korean Central News Agency said.
Kim stressed the need to prepare for dialogue and confrontation, especially to be fully prepared for confrontation in order to safeguard our country’s dignity and interests for independent development and reliably guarantee a peaceful environment and security of our country. “
In 2018-2019, Kim held a series of summit meetings with then-President Donald Trump to discuss developing his nuclear arsenal. But their negotiations faltered after Trump rejected Kim’s calls for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial waiver of his nuclear capability.
The Biden administration has crafted a new approach to North Korea’s nuclear program that it describes as “calculated and pragmatic.” Details of his North Korea policy have not been made public, but US officials have indicated that Biden will seek a compromise between Trump’s direct meetings with Kim and former President Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” to curb Kim’s nuclear programme.
Earlier this week, leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations issued a statement calling for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the “verifiable and irreversible abandonment” of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. They called on North Korea to engage and resume dialogue.
Sung Kim, the top US official in North Korea, is scheduled to visit Seoul on Saturday for a trilateral meeting with South Korean and Japanese officials. The Foreign Ministry said his travel underscores the importance of trilateral cooperation in working towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Kim recently threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and build high-tech weapons targeting the mainland United States if Washington refused to drop its hostile policy toward North Korea.
In March, Kim’s army conducted its first short-range ballistic missile tests in a year. But North Korea still maintains a moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear tests, a sign that Kim still wants to keep the prospects for diplomacy alive.
Kwak Gil Sub, head of the One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korea affairs, wrote on Facebook that Kim’s statement indicated a two-track approach to bolstering military capability and preparing for talks. But he said Kim would likely focus on bolstering military power and repeating his demand for the United States to withdraw its hostile policy, rather than hastily return to talks.
Kim said last week that North Korea’s military should remain on high alert to defend national security.
North Korea will likely still return to talks but will not accept a call for immediate and complete denuclearization, analyst Cheong Seong Chang at the Sejong Institute in South Korea said. He said North Korea could join a proposal to freeze its nuclear program and partially reduce its nuclear arsenal in phases if the Biden administration eases sanctions and suspends its regular military exercises with South Korea.
Cha Duk-chul, deputy spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said he is closely watching the ongoing political meeting of North Korea and wanted to re-emphasize that the best way to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula is through dialogue.
Kim has called a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee this week to review efforts to rebuild his economy, which has been severely crippled by the outbreak of border closures, mismanagement amid US-led sanctions and damage to crops and infrastructure last year.
On Tuesday, Kim opened the meeting by warning of possible food shortages, urging officials to find ways to boost agricultural production as the country’s food situation is “now tense.” He also urged the country to prepare for expanded COVID-19 restrictions, suggesting that North Korea will extend its border closures and other steps despite the strain on its economy.