Washington/Tokyo – The top U.S. intelligence officer for North Korea warned on Friday the country sees diplomacy only as a means to advance its nuclear weapons development, even as the new Biden administration says it will look for ways to bring Pyongyang back to talks.
President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday the new administration planned a full review of the U.S. approach to North Korea to look at ways to increase pressure on it to return to the negotiating table.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated this on Friday, saying North Korea’s nuclear weapons were a serious threat to peace and Washington had a vital interest in deterring Pyongyang.
“We will adopt a new strategy to keep the American people and our allies safe. That approach will begin with a thorough policy review of the state of play in North Korea in close consultation with South Korea, Japan and other allies on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy,” Psaki added.
Sydney Seiler, the U.S. national intelligence officer for North Korea, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank earlier that Pyongyang’s weapons development had been a consistent policy for 30 years.
“Every engagement in diplomacy has been designed to further the nuclear program, not to find a way out. … I just urge people not to let the tactical ambiguity obstruct the strategic clarity about North Korea that we have,” he said.
“So we should not be overly encouraged if suddenly (North Korea leader Kim Jong Un) proposes dialogue tomorrow, nor should we be overly surprised, or discouraged, if there’s an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) launch by Sunday.”
Seiler also said humanitarian aid — which Blinken said the United States should look at providing to North Korea if needed — was not something of interest to Pyongyang.
The force North Korea seeks to develop, while part aspirational and part years away, was far more than that needed by a country that simply wanted to be left alone, Seiler said, adding: “That is where the real risk of inaction comes in.”
On Tuesday, Blinken had spoken of the review plan in response to a question by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, who asked whether Blinken would, with the ultimate aim of North Korea denuclearizing, support a “phased agreement” that offered tailored sanctions relief to Pyongyang in return for a freeze in its weapons programs.
Biden’s top Asia official, Kurt Campbell, has said the administration must decide its approach quickly and not repeat an Obama-era delay that led to “provocative” steps by Pyongyang that prevented engagement.
Campbell also had some praise for former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented summits with Kim, although these made no progress in curtailing a North Korean nuclear weapons program that expanded in the meantime.
The remarks came as a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official told a ruling party meeting Friday that Japan intends to ask the new U.S. administration to maintain the policy of seeking the complete denuclearization of North Korea, a meeting participant said.
“Japan does not approve of a phased approach (to North Korea.) We will strengthen efforts to ask the United States to accept our position,” Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masahisa Sato quoted the official as saying at the party’s foreign affairs division meeting.
The official made the remark in response to a question from a lawmaker regarding the possibility of the new U.S. administration shifting to a step-by-step approach, offering concessions such as sanctions relief for each step Pyongyang takes in the denuclearization process.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.