Chances are that the strained relations between Pyongyang and Washington will not thaw in the coming months, as the U.S. has put North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on its sanctions blacklist for the first time.
Dictator Kim is among 15 officials and eight entities identified in the blacklist designated by the U.S. State Department and Treasury. This is the first time that Kim has been personally blacklisted, although in the past there have been international and unilateral bans in connection with the country’s nuclear weapons development.
Washington’s statements do not appear to have left room for proactive talks with the wayward communist ruler.
“Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor and torture,” the statement said.
The icy relations began in the second half of last year.
Pyongyang was stepping up demands for peace treaty talks. It continued to reiterate that “if the peace treaty is signed, and the termination of the U.S.’ hostile policy is confirmed, all problems would be resolved.”
Washington rejected the suggestion. It stressed the abandonment of the North’s nuclear ambitions as the core prerequisite for launching talks. Pyongyang, in turn, clarified that nothing can be resolved if the peace treaty and denuclearization are connected with each other in negotiations.
Seoul welcomed the U.S.’ direct tackling of Kim over the North’s human rights issue through an official statement. However, the icy relations offer little benefits to South Korea.
Nonetheless, it does not seem that the Defense Ministry has left completely no room for talks. If the communist country shows flexibility on the nuclear weapons issue, an inter-Korean breakthrough may be found.
For now, South Korea is not in a position to easily accept the proposal given that the international community is participating in U.N.-led economic sanctions on North Korea after nuclear and missile tests earlier this year.
At this point, there is no proactive message from the North that is acceptable to the U.N. and other sanctions participants, so there is no need to hold dialogue, such as a working-level military meeting.
Undoubtedly, military readiness should be prioritized as the possibility of the North’s provocations is high given its isolated position. Aside from habitual missile launches into oceans off the Korean Peninsula, it may attack the South’s soldiers or ordinary citizens in the form of an artillery shelling or naval assault.