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N. Korea demands sanctions relief before discussing end-of-war declaration: NIS

Pyongyang says S. Korea, US should at least suspend military drills

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at a lecture to commemorate the 76th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party on Oct. 10. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at a lecture to commemorate the 76th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party on Oct. 10. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korea demanded UN sanctions relief and the suspension of South Korea-US military exercises as preconditions for talks on an end-of-war declaration, the South Korean spy agency said on Thursday.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) confirmed Pyongyang’s position on the issue in a closed-door briefing at the parliamentary audit, Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Party told a press conference.

North Korea conspicuously suggested the specific prerequisites just for its participation in a meeting on the end-of-war declaration, according to the members of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee.

Pyongyang’s preconditions for opening dialogue include the suspension of the joint military exercises, and the partial lifting of the UN sanctions on refined oil, minerals, medicine, and other necessities.

North Korea specifically wanted UN economic sanctions banning exports of minerals and restricting imports of refined petroleum products lifted.

The UNSC Resolution 2321 prohibits North Korea from exporting minerals, such as copper, nickel, silver, and zinc, and Resolution 2397 caps the exports of refined petroleum oil to Pyongyang at 500,000 barrels a year.

Pyongyang also wants South Korea and the US to “at least” suspend joint military exercises before holding talks on declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, Rep. Kim Byung-kee said, adding that the precondition is “virtually infeasible.”

Pyongyang’s demands are in line with its stance that was widely reflected in the recent statements issued under the name of North Korean senior officials, including the leader’s sister Kim Yo-jong.

North Korea has called for Washington and Seoul to withdraw their “hostile policy” toward the country and “double standards” over its military buildup in response to Seoul’s recent call for declaring a formal end to the Korean War. 

Since South Korean President Moon Jae-in re-proposed the end-of-war declaration as a means to revive nuclear diplomacy in his UN speech in mid-September, Seoul has been making multiple efforts to that end.

Although North Korea’s insistence is not fresh, it is notable that North Korea has refrained from publicly demanding UN sanctions relief in the aftermath of the breakdown of the second Trump-Kim summit in February 2019. The country, instead, has broadly called for the withdrawal of what they call the US’ hostile policy.

The North’s position also runs counter to the Biden administration‘s position to meet North Korea “without preconditions.”

Food shortage and supply disruptions

During the closed-door briefing, the spy agency also shared assessments that there were indications of food insecurity and growing material shortages.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un instructed on mobilizing the entire population and military into efforts to overcome chronic food shortages. Rep. Ha Tae-keung said. Kim also reportedly ordered the country to secure every grain, saying that food shortages made him feel like “walking on thin ice.”

In mid-June, the North Korean leader unprecedentedly acknowledged that the country was experiencing a “tense” food situation mainly because of typhoon damage last year.

But the NIS assessed that this year’s overall grain output would exceed last year’s production due to an increase in sunshine hours. Pyongyang also completed its rice harvest around October 20, earlier than last year.

The South Korean spy agency also said the border shutdown has disrupted the supply of key materials, including essential medicine, and eventually hampered currency production and circulation.

North Korea’s suspension of imports of special ink and paper has stopped the production of banknotes, Rep. Ha said, explaining that the central bank has been issuing temporary currency for the country.

Amid growing supply shortages, Pyongyang has pushed forward its plans to resume transportation via cross-border freight trains. North Korea is in discussions with China and Russia regarding the reopening of overland routes, which have been shut down since January last year.

The South Korean spy agency also raised the possibility that North Korea might restart the operation of cargo trains that travel between Dandong and Sinuiju in China as early as November.

The NIS also detected the signs of North Korea additionally opening the Ryongchon Port at the mouth of the Yalu River as the now-opened Nampo port is saturated with cargo and supplies.

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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