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15.11.2022 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Relations between the USA and North Korea in the second half of 2022

When considering the increase in tensions in the Korean Peninsula in autumn 2022 – an issue the present author has dedicated several articles to – it is worth looking at how relations between North Korea and the USA have developed in the last few months.

On June 8, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, acting US ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, announced that the US had “repeatedly and publicly said that we seek a dialogue with Pyongyang, without preconditions.” DeLaurentis added that “that message has been passed through private channels, including China.” He also spoke about the USA’s willingness to help Pyongyang with the fight against COVID-19. But, he said, the US had not received any response to its proposals.

On June 30, North Korea dismissed the US offer of humanitarian aid to help it respond to the pandemic, describing the offer as a “scheme to realize a foul political purpose.” In an official statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington and its allies of misleading public opinion by claiming that Pyongyang is experiencing a humanitarian crisis.

Also on June 30, an unnamed US Department of State spokesman assured South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that “the United States continues to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid in the hope that the DPRK will accept it” (en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN2022063001190032?section=news).

On July 3, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed its strong objection to a resolution adopted by the leaders of the USA, Japan and South Korea at the recent NATO summit, calling for stronger tripartite cooperation in response to the development of North Korea’s rocket program.

On August 22, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price declared that the US had no intention to negotiate with North Korea as a nuclear power. He was commenting on North Korea’s rejection of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s offer of comprehensive economic support in return for denuclearization.

On September 20, Sung Yong Kim, US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, repeated that in the summer the US had offered to enter into dialog via its channels in New York, but North Korea had not responded. When asked about the possible reasons why North Korea had not accepted the US’s most recent initiatives, or its other initiatives over the last few years, Sung Kim answered that “obviously, it’s difficult to engage in any diplomatic activity, including with us if they’re in a complete lockdown…. So as they get the COVID situation under control, and as they open up, hopefully, they might show some interest”. In relation to the concerns that North Korea may carry out a seventh nuclear test, he warned that the response to such a test would be “stronger-than-before.”

On October 10, a US Department of State spokesman, commenting on what amounts to a refusal by Pyongyang to enter into dialog, stated that the US government condemns North Korea’s recent missile launches, but is still open for dialog. The Department of State rejected North Korea’s claim that its provocations are a necessary response to the USA’s measures to counter North Korea’s threats.

On October 18, Philip Goldberg, US ambassador to South Korea, denounced “North Korea’s recent threats to use tactical nuclear weapons” as “irresponsible and dangerous”. He stressed the Biden administration’s commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, adding, “so our work at the moment with our allies here and our allies in Japan is to respond to these provocations and threats by showing resolve, but nobody should doubt our commitment to extended deterrence.”  He also accused China of doing too little to mitigate North Korea’s threats by neglecting its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions.

On October 25, 2022 John Bolton, former US National Security Advisor, explicitly and publicly stated that the US government had been involved in discussions about regime change in North Korea.  However, he did not specify when these discussions took place, or what position US government officials had taken on this issue. He also said that North Korean nuclear facilities should be destroyed to ensure the security of the US and its allies.

 On October 25, Ned Price once again warned North Korea of the possible consequences of its nuclear tests, and called on it to resolve the problem through diplomacy.

On October 27, the US Department of Defense issued a revised National Defense Strategy, which stated that “any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of that regime”. The NDS also states that the US “will hold the (North Korean) regime responsible for any transfer it makes of nuclear weapons technology, material or expertise to any state or non-state actor.” John Kirby, White House National Security Council Coordinator, confirmed the USA’s commitment to engagement with Pyongyang, but added that the US will continue to prepare for all contingencies at the same time.

Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense, also said that the NDS is “clear eyed” about threats posed by North Korea and its evolving nuclear and missile capabilities, and highlighted the risks of further proliferation of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Although given its current international isolation, it is hard to imagine how North Korea could act in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 On October 31, Ned Price again insisted that the USA does not recognize North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state. There has been no change in the USA’s policy in relation to North Korea. Its goal is the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but it is open to dialogue with Pyongyang, “with no preconditions.”

As it has shown, despite the USA’s repeated claims that it is open to dialog, it has not engaged in dialog but instead has continually and without foundation charged Pyongyang with preparing nuclear tests which never actually happened, demanded North Korea’s unilateral disarmament, attempted to pressurize it by imposing harsher sanctions, and organizing large-scale exercises with South Korea. It is hardly surprising that its policies have led to the current situation. Still, more and more voices are speaking out in favor of a change in tactics – of which more in future articles.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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