As the United States and North Korea prepare for another round of high-level talks this week, Pyongyang’s increasingly heated rhetoric has analysts worried that the stalemate between the two sides could lead to a breakdown in negotiations.
An official with North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a veiled threat Friday, warning that Pyongyang could restart «building up nuclear forces» if the US does not ease the crippling sanctions levied on North Korea.
The comments come ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, in New York this week.
The piece, carried in North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA, accused Washington of believing the «foolish idea that the DPRK came out to the negotiating table, yielding to the sanctions» and failing to understand that «the improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible.»
The Trump administration has long held that sanctions levied on North Korea by the United Nations and the US would not be lifted until North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons and the world community was able to verify that it had done so.
Pompeo called the commentary «stray voltage» in an interview with CBS News and said he’s not worried about rhetoric from North Korean media.
«We know with whom we’re negotiating. We know what their positions are. And President Trump has made his position very clear: no economic relief until we have achieved our ultimate objective,» he said.
Experts say the hardline negotiating positions staked out by both sides have resulted in a protracted stalemate.
North Korea is only willing to give up its nuclear weapons once it has established a peaceful and trusting relationship with the United States; the United States is only willing to form a peaceful relationship with North Korea until after it gives up its nuclear weapons.
This type of posturing could easily spiral out of control, as it did in 2017, says Adam Mount, a senior fellow and the director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
«This is a more direct threat to collapse talks and resume the nuclear program at full speed than we’ve seen since negotiations since started. So in that regards it’s a shift from their previous position,» Mount said.
However, experts like Mount say the North Korean position does not come as a total surprise — staking out hardline positions in state media ahead of diplomatic meetings has long been a favored tactic in Pyongyang’s playbook.
«It’s a clear play for leverage, it’s a clear play to set the agenda in the upcoming round of diplomacy, but there’s still a very real risk that it does seriously damage the negotiation process.»