Asia Pacific / Politics

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator warns of 'terrible events' if talks with U.S. resume without shift

Reuters, Kyodo

North Korea’s top negotiator in just-resumed nuclear talks with the United States warned Monday of “terrible events” unless the United States comes to the negotiating table well prepared.

Kim Myong Gil made the remark at Beijing airport on his way back to North Korea from Sweden, where he had announced that the U.S.-North Korea working-level denuclearization talks that had restarted after months of stalemate “broke off” after just one day.

“If the United States is not well prepared, we don’t know what terrible events will happen,” Kim told reporters at the airport. He said that whether the talks continue hinges on the United States. North Korea said Sunday there was no way the United States would bring alternative plans for their stalled nuclear talks to a meeting proposed by Stockholm in two weeks after the negotiations broke down.

The working-level talks between U.S. and North Korean envoys were broken off on Saturday. The U.S. State Department said it had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.

North Korea said the ball was now in Washington’s court, and warned Washington that it would wait only until the end of the year for the United States to change course.

“We have no intention to hold such sickening negotiations as … happened this time (in Sweden) before the U.S. takes a substantial step to make complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK,” KCNA state news agency cited a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry as saying, referring to the official name of North Korea.

Ann Linde, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, said the talks had been constructive “for as long as they lasted.”

“Then I think there was a somewhat different view on what to accomplish at one meeting,” she told Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, adding that Sweden was at the countries’ disposal if they decide to meet again.

“If that is in two weeks or two months remains to be seen. I think it is possible to achieve more talks, but that is entirely up to both parties,” she said.

It is unclear whether North Korea will return to the talks, but Pyongyang could be using its strategy of negotiating on the edge to gain concessions as fringe benefits of participating in negotiations, experts say.

“They want to create the impression that the cause of the impasse is the inflexibility of the U.S. side — and they likely want to force the United States to either come back with a more favorable negotiating position or eventually force President Trump to engage at the summit level to keep diplomacy alive,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official specializing in the Koreas.

Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, added that North Korea is also buying time to continue to expand and improve its missile and nuclear force, and negotiate the terms by which it is accepted as a nuclear weapons power.

“If that’s the case, their best strategy is to dangle the hope of a fictional future deal but stall on actual negotiations, let alone crafting or implementing any such deal,” Narang said.

Under sanctions banning much of its trade because of its weapons program, North Korea recently test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, a provocative gesture that also underscored the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.

North Korea reiterated the year-end deadline that leader Kim Jong Un set for the United States to show more flexibility in the talks, which fell apart in February during his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

In June, the two leaders then met again in Panmunjom, the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, and agreed to restart working-level talks.

At the working-level talks, the United States has said it brought “creative ideas” and had good discussions with North Korea, without giving further details.

But North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Washington had made no preparations for the talks in Sweden but sought only to serve its own political aims.

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