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North Korea keeps ignoring engagement efforts

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Chief nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk, right, poses with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim, left, and Takehiro Funakoshi, before their talks in Tokyo, Tuesday. Yonhap
Chief nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk, right, poses with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim, left, and Takehiro Funakoshi, before their talks in Tokyo, Tuesday. Yonhap

US still committed to inter-Korean humanitarian projects

By Kang Seung-woo

Humanitarian assistance-based efforts by South Korea and the United States to engage North Korea appear to be falling on deaf ears as Pyongyang is opting for confrontation over dialogue to seize some kind of initiative before returning to denuclearization negotiations.

Under these circumstances, President Moon Jae-in's peace efforts, represented by his highly-hyped Korean Peninsula "peace process," are increasingly losing their footing.

On Monday, the reclusive state announced that it had successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, putting a damper on repeated calls from Seoul and Washington for the country to return to dialogue.

The missile launches were carried out before the top nuclear negotiators of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan held a trilateral meeting in Tokyo, Tuesday, to discuss ways to resolve the stalled North Korea nuclear issue.

Currently, the Joe Biden administration is committed to supporting inter-Korean humanitarian cooperation projects, in the hope that this will lead to the Kim Jong-un regime responding by resuming dialogue.

However, the fact that the missile launches occurred even ahead of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's trip to Seoul, Tuesday and Wednesday, has raised the speculation that North Korea is taking a confrontational path toward the U.S.

In June, Kim ordered his country to prepare for both "dialogue and confrontation" with Washington, and "especially to get fully prepared for confrontation."

"North Korea is following its own path of seeking more from the U.S., such as sanctions relief or the suspension of the South Korea-U.S. combined military exercises, and the missile launches were part of this basic strategy," said Shin Beom-chul, the director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

As North Korea has remained silent on the humanitarian aid offers and staged military provocations, the Moon administration's peace initiative of engaging the North to move it forward on denuclearization seems to be doomed due to the lack of support from the relevant parties.

In the wake of the missile tests, Cheong Wa Dae has yet to come up with an official position on the matter, while the U.S. and Japan strongly denounced the launches as a "threat to the international community."

"Frankly speaking, few countries support the Korean Peninsula peace process. With North Korea and China urging the U.S. to concede more, Washington perfunctorily approves it, but it is not yet ready to ease sanctions," Shin said.

"As there is little chance that the relevant countries will change their stances, the peace initiative is unlikely to make progress if South Korea continues to pursue it in the same fashion."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gives a thumbs-up while watching a military parade at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, Thursday, to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the country's founding. Yonhap
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gives a thumbs-up while watching a military parade at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, Thursday, to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the country's founding. Yonhap

In spite of the latest military provocation, the U.S. reiterated its call for Pyongyang to return to denuclearization talks that have been deadlocked since the collapse of a Hanoi summit between the two countries in February 2019, according to its nuclear envoy.

"We are prepared to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization," said Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, after the three-way meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts ― Noh Kyu-duk and Takehiro Funakoshi.

The DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

"The United States supports the provision of humanitarian aid, consistent with international standards, for access and monitoring to the most vulnerable North Koreans," he also said, adding that the U.S. is backing "certain" inter-Korean humanitarian cooperation projects.

Noh, who said, Sunday, discussions with the U.S. on inter-Korean humanitarian projects had made significant progress, said the spadework had been done for cooperation with the North.

"Going forward, South Korea and the U.S. will explore creative ways to open dialogue with North Korea," he said, hoping for response from Pyongyang.


Kang Seung-woo ksw@koreatimes.co.kr


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