Just in time for the new year: a North Korean nuclear crisis

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The North Koreans previously set a deadline of the end of 2019 for negotiations to produce a result. Time Is Running out for a Deal with North Korea. There is a good chance that Pyongyang will follow through with shifting gears if no deal is reached by the end of 2019.

It is a firm deadline, and North Korea meant it. North Korea threatens military escalation as clock ticks on year-end deadline:

North Korea has a message for President Trump and the United States: The clock is ticking, and a bomb is about to explode.

There are seven weeks until North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is scheduled to deliver a keynote New Year’s Day speech. That will come a day after his self-imposed year-end deadline expires for the United States to come up with new proposals to restart nuclear talks.

On Wednesday — with Washington transfixed on the House impeachment inquiry — North Korea significantly raised the stakes, making an implicit threat to resume long-range missile or nuclear tests. In an official statement, the North said it felt “betrayed” by a U.S. decision to continue with joint air drills with South Korea, calling it an “undisguised breach” of an agreement made between Kim and Trump in Singapore last year.

As a result, North Korea said, it no longer felt bound by previous commitments. That could signal plans to resume nuclear or long-range missile tests.

“The U.S. is not accepting with due consideration the year-end time limit that we set out of great patience and magnanimity,” the statement from the country’s State Affairs Commission said.

“We, without being given anything, gave things the U.S. president can brag about but the U.S. side has not yet taken any corresponding step,” it added. “Now, betrayal is only what we feel from the U.S. side.”

‘No sufficient time left’

Relations between the two sides deteriorated sharply after a failed summit in Hanoi in February. Two months later, Kim threatened to take his country on a “new path” unless the United States changed its approach to the talks.

North Korea appears to want sanctions relief and security guarantees — some way of feeling that the regime would not suffer the same fate as Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein if it scaled back its nuclear program.

If it doesn’t get what it wants from Trump, and soon, it may be about to dial up the heat.

“At present, when one party backpedals on its commitments and unilaterally takes hostile steps, there is neither reason nor any excuse for the other party to keep itself bound to its commitments. What’s more, there is no sufficient time left,” the North’s statement said, vowing to answer dialogue with dialogue and “recourse to force in kind.”

South Korea says it is taking the threat seriously but insists there is still time to save the day.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said he believed the United States and North Korea would return to the negotiating table before the end of the year.

“If they miss this opportunity, the situation and the environment will get more difficult, and it will become more difficult for us to solve the issues,” he said in an interview.

Talks between the two sides in Stockholm ended in October with North Korean delegation officials denouncing their American counterparts. Swedish efforts to revive that process have foundered.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, speaking en route to South Korea on Wednesday,” said “talks about talks” are underway and offered to adjust military exercises “either more or less depending on what diplomacy may require.”

In two statements issued late Thursday, North Korea said it would welcome a complete halt to the exercises but expressed skepticism about talks, saying the dialogue proposal seemed like a “trick to earn time.” 

Questions about next step

Pessimism is rising among the North Korea-watching community of policy experts and analysts. They see the prospect of an escalation in tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

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If the North Korean leader announces “extremely negative measures” in his New Year’s speech, “I cannot see us responding in anything other than a very stern, escalatory way,” said Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

“My concern,” he added, “is the North Koreans are going to miscalculate.”

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said he also believes North Korea will take some “tough” steps early next year — possibly a satellite launch or an intercontinental ballistic missile test. Meanwhile, Kim Yeon-chul will travel to Washington and Los Angeles next week as Seoul tries to reprise its role as peacemaker.

But Lankov said North Korea would probably hold back from a “dramatic” gesture — mostly to avoid a setback in relations with China, whose role as North Korea’s main economic lifeline has grown since sanctions were imposed.

But he faces an uphill battle: North Korea has shut off dialogue with the South, and Washington sees Seoul as much less central to the process than it did a year ago. The country has even been replaced as a go-between by Sweden.

Still, Kim Yeon-chul says he will bring ideas to Washington. The unification minister wants the two sides to focus on confidence-building measures; for example, by easing travel restrictions on U.S. citizens of Korean origin who still have relatives in the North.

He suggested they might consider an “Olympics armistice” next year, in which North Korea suspends its missile tests and the United States suspends joint military exercises with South Korea. Japan — which also had deep concerns over North Korea’s military and nuclear capabilities — is host of the 2020 Summer Games.

North Korea said on Thursday that the United States had proposed resuming talks on denuclearization in December, but warned that Pyongyang was not interested unless Washington was ready to meet its terms. North Korea Says U.S. Sought More Talks, but Calls It a ‘Trick’:

The North Korean envoy to the talks, Kim Myong-gil, said on Thursday that his counterpart in Washington, Stephen E. Biegun, had sent a proposal to the North through a third party. Mr. Biegun and Mr. Kim led their countries’ delegations to working-level talks in Sweden last month, which ended without an agreement.

In a statement that was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, Mr. Kim expressed strong doubt about Mr. Biegun’s sincerity, asking why the American envoy had sent his proposal through an intermediary rather than contacting him directly.

“If the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the U.S. at any place and any time​,” Mr. Kim said. But he added that North Korea had “no willingness to have such negotiations” if the United States merely planned to stall, as ​he said Mr. Biegun’s team had done in Stockholm​.

After ​those talks collapsed, North Korea said it had no desire to engage in “sickening negotiations” with the United States anymore, swearing that it would never meet with American negotiators again until Washington had taken “a substantial step” toward a “complete and irreversible withdrawal” of its “hostile policy.”

On Thursday, Mr. Kim said he intuitively believed that Washington was not ready to give a satisfactory answer to the North’s demand.

“Explicitly speaking once again, I am not interested in such a meeting,” he said.

The “great negotiator,” Donald Trump, sought to appease Kim Jong-un with yet another photo-op summit, thinking that would do the trick. Apparently the “bromance” is over. No more love letters, we’re breaking up. North Korea will not hold ‘useless’ summits with US: KCNA:

Another summit between North Korea and the US would be “useless” unless Washington offers new concessions in their nuclear negotiations, Pyongyang said Monday, hours after Donald Trump hinted at the prospect.

“You should act quickly, get the deal done,” Trump tweeted Sunday, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “See you soon!”

Kim and Trump have met three times since June last year, but talks have been gridlocked since their Hanoi summit in February broke up in disagreement over sanctions relief, while October’s working-level talks rapidly broke down in Sweden.

Pyongyang has set Washington a deadline of the end of the year to come forward with a fresh offer, and foreign ministry advisor Kim Kye Gwan said the US was “buying time while acting as if it has achieved progress.”

He interpreted Trump’s tweet as a “signal” for a new summit, he said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA, but declared: “We are not interested in such useless talks any more.”

“We will not give anything to the US president to brag about when we have received nothing in return,” he went on, adding the North should be “rewarded for what President Trump touts as his achievements.”

Where’s the love? “Kim doesn’t want to see me anymore?

The implied criticism of Trump by name is a departure for Pyongyang, which has long limited its frustration to other administration officials.

Last month, adviser Kim declared: “Contrary to the political judgment and intention of President Trump, Washington political circles and DPRK policy makers of the US administration are hostile to the DPRK for no reason,” using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

In September he was fulsome in his praise for the US leader, saying that Trump was “different from his predecessors” and that he placed his hopes in “President Trump’s wise option and bold decision.”

But as the North’s deadline approaches it has issued a series of increasingly assertive statements — while also carrying out a number of weapons launches.

Washington should withdraw its “hostile policy” if it wants dialogue to continue, Kim said Monday, without elaborating further.

Trump’s tweet came after Washington and Seoul agreed to postpone annual joint aerial exercises to create space for diplomacy with Pyongyang, which condemns such drills as preparations for invasion.

Yet another Trump appeasement of Kim Jong-un, in exchange for what? North Korea has been improving its missile capabilities and improving its missile launch sites, and doing testing by firing missiles into the Sea of Japan. Trump’s only response has been “So what, Li’l Kim loves me! He sends me beautiful love letters.

That’s the thing about a breakup, someone is always the last to know.

Kim Jong-un is hoping that Trump caves and gives him everything he wants — “but I love you!” — just as he did with Turkey’s dictator Erdogan, and indirectly Russia’s dictator Putin, in Syria. But South Korea is not Syria, it is a major U.S. ally and economic power. And many Americans gave their lives defending South Korea in the war. Trump cannot cave and give Kim Jong-un everything he wants without serious repurcusions from the Pentagon and the Congress, which could include a conveniently timed impeachment.

Just in time for the new year: a North Korean nuclear crisis.




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