Stephen Biegun, US special envoy for North Korea, urged Pyongyang to resume denuclearization talks. He proposed a US-North Korea meeting openly.
After meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon, he told reporters that Washington had no “deadline” for the resumption of dialogue with North Korea. The North has set an end-of-year deadline arbitrarily for the US to come up with a new denuclearization deal that includes significant sanctions relief.
He said to his North Korean counterpart, “It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here, and you know how to reach us.”
Biegun called Pyongyang’s latest statements “hostile, negative and so unnecessary.”
Regarding the North’s remarks that the US could expect a “Christmas gift” if it did not comply with the regime’s demands before the deadline, he asked for restraint. The Christmas gift is perceived as North Korea launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Considering the recent exchange of violent language between Washington and Pyongyang, Biegun’s remarks sound rather measured and restrained. This reflects the US’ strong will to start negotiations anew.
In light of a continued confrontation between the US and the North, it is important to have a face-to-face meeting now to find common ground. It is North Korea’s turn to respond positively, as the US has said it is ready to meet.
But a meeting is unlikely in the near future, in view of the North’s rejection of US calls so far for dialogue after working-level talks ended with little outcome in Stockholm, Sweden, in October.
North Korea said in a statement Saturday that it successfully carried out “another crucial test” at its satellite launch site Friday. It said in another statement the test was aimed at “developing strategic weapons to fend off US nuclear threats.” It is presumed to have conducted a missile engine test for the second time after “a very important test” six days earlier at the same launch site.
The statement sparked speculation that the test was related to the atmospheric reentry of a long-range missile and that North Korea may possess a significant level of ICBM technology.
Separately, activity resumed at the submersible test stand barge in the Nampo Navy Shipyard in North Korea on Dec. 2, according to a satellite image analysis by a US-based think tank. This raised concerns Pyongyang may be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Its ambiguous statements and suspicious activity appear to be intended to arouse interest in North Korea’s military strength and to see how the US reacts.
Pyongyang has sent threatening signals it may cross the line, but at the same time it left open the possibility that it may not.
It said if the US was prudent in its words and deeds, the US could have a carefree time by the end of the year. This raises the possibility it may refrain from ICBM provocations depending on the US proposal.
There is one thing for Pyongyang to keep in mind when it deals with the US. It is unlikely that Washington will simply give in to the North. The US may offer concessions, but these do not automatically mean it will accept Pyongyang’s exorbitant demands readily.
Recently, the US beefed up its surveillance of North Korea and asked the United Nations Security Council to discuss the possibility of the North launching an ICBM around Christmas.
If the North escalates tension with provocations, Washington will likely tighten its economic and military blockade on North Korea. The more the North provokes, the more pressure it will face.
It is not certain how advanced its nuclear weapons and missiles are, but Pyongyang boasts about them even as many in North Korea suffer from hunger. It must know nuclear ICBMs will never solve the starvation problem but could lead to self-destruction.
Therefore, Pyongyang must accept Biegun’s offer of dialogue.
While North Korea has shown signs that it will resume long-range missile tests, the government in the South has kept silent.
Seoul’s silence -- even at Pyongyang’s ridicule of the president -- has only emboldened Pyongyang. The South Korean government must send a clear message that if the North fires a long-range missile disguised as an artificial satellite, Seoul and Washington will push quickly for stronger sanctions and resume joint military drills.
A prerequisite of dialogue with an unruly state is to make it realize that what it gains through provocations and threats is only pain.