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White House reaches out to North Korea in bid to resume nuke talks

US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un talk before a meeting in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ) on June 30, 2019, in Panmunjom, Korea. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
January 14, 2020

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien has said the United States attempted to contact North Korea in a bid to restart deadlocked nuclear talks, according to an interview published Sunday by news website Axios.

“We’ve reached out to the North Koreans and let them know that we would like to continue the negotiations in Stockholm that were last undertaken in early October,” O’Brien said.

He said that Washington had been “letting them know, through various channels,” that the U.S. is looking to get the negotiations back on track “and to implement Chairman Kim’s commitment” to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to a vaguely worded, 1½-page joint statement at their landmark first summit in Singapore in June 2018, though few examples of tangible progress have emerged since.

Trump has repeatedly touted the lack of missile and nuclear tests, as well as his excellent relationship with Kim — even going so far as to say the two had “fallen in love” — as a sign of progress.

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But Trump’s personal relationship with Kim may not be enough to salvage the stalled nuclear talks, a senior North Korean official said Saturday.

Kim Kye Gwan, an adviser to the North’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency that his country had directly received Trump’s letter wishing a happy birthday to leader Kim Jong Un, but warned that it will return to nuclear talks only when Washington fully accepts its demands.

“As acknowledged by the world, it is true that the personal relations between (Kim) and President Trump are not bad,” he said. However, he continued, it would be “absent-minded” to expect Pyongyang to resume dialogue because of that warm personal relationship.

Restarting the talks “may be possible” only under the condition of Washington’s “absolute agreement” on the issues raised by the North in previous talks, the official said.

That statement came just weeks after Kim Jong Un expressed deep frustrations in a recent key policy speech ahead of the new year over the stalled negotiations and vowed to bolster his nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.

He also declared that his country is no longer bound by its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, while also warning of a “new strategic weapon” that he vowed to soon reveal to the world.

Despite this, O’Brien indicated he was cautiously optimistic about resuming talks, noting that the North had yet to deliver a promised “Christmas gift” — which many experts interpreted as a long-range missile test.

Kim “promised to send a Christmas present,” O’Brien said. “The president suggested he send him a vase. We didn’t get a vase or any other sort of Christmas gift. That appears to be positive.”

Still, he added the caveat that Pyongyang, now out of the headlines after the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, may again attempt to return to the front pages.

“All we know is we were told we were going to get a Christmas gift and the Christmas gift didn’t come,” O’Brien said. “And so I think that was an encouraging sign. But, again, that doesn’t mean we won’t see some sort of test in the future.”

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© 2020 the Japan Times