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Experts say North Korea doesn’t want peace talks — it wants nuclear missiles and to bully the US

A photo released by KCNA news agency on March 12, 2013, shows North Korea leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Wolnae-do Defence Detachment on the western front line. (KCNA/Xinhua/Zuma Press/MCT/TNS)
September 28, 2017

  • North Korea won’t seriously engage in peace talks until it has satisfied itself with its missiles and nuclear warheads.
  • It doesn’t really matter what the US offers right now.
  • Victory for North Korea doesn’t mean battle, it means bullying and blackmailing the US into concessions.

Heated rhetoric from President Donald Trump pointed at North Korea has dominated news coverage and headlines for months now, but no tone or type of conversation can change the fact that North Korea doesn’t want peace talks right now.

While Trump’s threats may have fanned the flames of today’s North Korean crisis, the driving force is North Korean missile and nuclear tests that clearly pose a threat to the region and the US mainland.

“Trump’s method is perhaps not the best, but at the same time we shouldn’t mix up the responsibilities,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister said, according to Reuters. “The country that is breaking with nuclear international agreements is North Korea.”

International observers have urged the US to pursue diplomacy and talks with North Korea, but Pyongyang doesn’t seem interested. Denuclearization is a non-starter for negotiations. At best, North Korea may accept the US and South Korea from stopping their legal, above board, military drills in exchange for them freezing their illegal nuclear program.

But being coerced to stop a legal activity by another actor’s illegal activity is called blackmail, and no US president has seriously entertained it.

North Korea stands a short sprint from achieving full nuclear capability, and several experts contacted by Business Insider do not believe Pyongyang would lay down its arms so close to its goal.

“I think they will first want to demonstrate their capacity to have an ICBM … that could reach the United States” before negotiating, Suzanne DiMaggio, a director and senior fellow at the New America think thank who directs unofficial talks between the US and the North Koreans, told Axios.

To demonstrate this capacity, North Korea needs to test more. Pyongyang has learned all it can from laboratory tests, simulations, and lofting missiles halfway to space instead of around the globe.

North Korea needs to keep firing missiles, probably over Japan, to demonstrate a credible ICBM in real world conditions. This need exists independently of Trump’s threats.

“North Korea will complete its remaining tests before softening” its negotiating position, Tong Zhao, a leading North Korea expert with the Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program in Beijing, told Business Insider.

In short, experts say there’s little that would bring North Korea to the table right now. Only after North Korea has satisfied itself with its nuclear and missile technologies will it talk with the US on anything close to acceptable terms.

Still, North Korea doesn’t want to initiate a war that will almost certainly bring about its destruction and the death of many thousands.

North Korea wants recognition as a nuclear arms state. It wants national and international prestige. It wants the US to forgive and forget the torture and death of Otto Warmbier. It wants to have the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan and the death of the 46 South Koreans on board swept under the rug. It wants its countless shellings and murders along the DMZ not to matter.

North Korea wants to intimidate and bully the US into concessions and guarantees of its safety while it disregards international law and violates the human rights of its citizens.

“We are adequately protected against the current threat” from North Korea, Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate on Tuesday. But, he admitted, the current estimate that Pyongyang will have an ICBM capable of accurately hitting the US mainland by late 2018 is accurate.

“In terms of a sense of urgency today, North Korea poses the greatest threat today.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.

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