Experts say sanctions relief would get North Korea’s attention to return to talks as the country faces economic decline.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said his country needs to prepare for “both dialogue and confrontation” with the United States under President Joe Biden, state media reported on Friday.
At a plenary meeting of the central committee of the governing Workers’ Party of Korea on Thursday, Kim outlined his strategy for relations with Washington, and the “policy tendency of the newly emerged US administration”, the Korean Central News Agency said.
The comments mark the first time Kim has made a reference to the country’s policy towards the US since the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.
Kim “stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state” and reliably guarantee a “peaceful environment”, KCNA reported.
The North Korean leader “called for sharply and promptly reacting to and coping with the fast-changing situation and concentrating efforts on taking stable control of the situation on the Korean peninsula”, the agency said.
Pyongyang had already accused Biden of pursuing a “hostile policy” and saying it was a “big blunder” for the veteran Democrat to say he would deal with the threat posed by the North’s nuclear programme “through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence”.
In 2019, the North said Biden should be “beaten to death with a stick”.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump made headlines – but little diplomatic progress – with a series of face-to-face meetings with Kim, an approach that Biden has said he will not pursue unless the terms change dramatically.
During a visit to Washington last month by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Biden said he “would not meet” Kim unless there was a concrete plan for negotiating on Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.
And he made a clear criticism of Trump’s chummy relationship with Kim, saying he “would not do what had been done in the recent past. I would not give him all he’s looking for – international recognition.”
The White House said it is now pursuing “a calibrated practical approach” – seemingly keeping expectations realistically low, while remaining open-minded.
“We understand where previous efforts in the past had difficulties and we’ve tried to learn from those,” a senior White House official said.
North Korea has carried out six atomic bomb tests since 2006, and is under multiple sets of international sanctions for its banned weapons programmes.
A report from US intelligence experts released in April said North Korea could resume nuclear tests this year as a way to force Biden’s administration to return to the negotiating table.
Kim “may take a number of aggressive and potentially destabilising actions to reshape the regional security environment and drive wedges between the United States and its allies – up to and including the resumption of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said.
Kim’s message also came as the new US special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, is set to arrive in Seoul on Saturday for trilateral talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
The trip “emphasizes the fundamental importance of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation in working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, protecting our shared security and prosperity, upholding common values, and bolstering the rules-based order,” the State Department said in a media note.
Despite the sharp rhetoric from Pyongyang, observers said that Kim may be also sending a signal to the US that he is willing to talk.
“The North appears to have decided on the direction toward resuming talks with the US within a broad framework, though it is likely to discuss with China the timing and scope,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told Yonhap.