North Korea says Pyongyang has no intention of giving in to Washington’s demands and Kim Jong Un would be making a statement soon on the possibility of further talks.
Reports also indicate Kim may reconsider ending the more than yearlong ban on missile tests that have been in place.
In a report from the Associated Press, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, who briefed reporters and diplomats in Pyongyang Friday, said Washington threw away a golden opportunity when Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump failed to reach a deal during their second summit, held in Hanoi in late February.
President Trump said he walked away from the negotiating table because of different positions on what would be required for North Korea to receive sanction relief.
President Trump said during a press conference that Pyongyang requested all sanctions be lifted in exchange for its continued moratorium on missile and nuclear tests, as well as the decommissioning of its Yongbyon test facility.
North Korea claimed it had only requested a partial lifting of the sanctions.
The Associated Press also reported Choe claimed, “Personal relations between the two supreme leaders are still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful.”
In a statement, the South Korean presidential Blue House said, “It is not reliable to judge the current situation only by remarks of Choe Son Hui. We closely monitor the situation. The government will put every effort to resume the North Korean - U.S. talks.”
Threats of more sanctions
Earlier this week, Moon Chung-in, South Korean Special Adviser to the President for Foreign Affairs and National Security, told reporters that increasing sanctions wasn’t an appropriate course of action if North Korea didn’t denuclearize.
Moon’s remark was in response to a statement by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Fox Business Network last week.
“They’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them. We’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” Bolton said.
“It is undesirable for the U.S. to impose additional sanctions if North Korea has not made an explicit provocation,” Moon said, “Extra sanction requires supporting reasons to justify, and without legit cause, it will prevent from two side talking.”
Moon urged Pyongyang and Washington to continue their dialog and make “likely proposals” to facilitate denuclearization.
In addition, Moon said, “The role of South Korea in this situation, or the role of President Moon [Jae-in] is not a mediator but facilitator, because a mediator should be an interest-free party, but South Korea is also involved in this problem.”
Last ditch effort?
In a statement following the State Assembly election last week, Kim may still be trying to salvage dialog with the United States, experts told VOA following the release of a statement that stressed the need for “the improvement of the economy and people’s daily lives.”
Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, says Kim Jong Un’s message may be an indication the North Korean leader was indirectly expressing a willingness to continue talking to U.S. President Trump if Washington took action to bridge the gap between the two sides.
“At this time, they (North Korea) are willing to reform and become more open, which requires sanctions being lifted, but they also need to show their willingness to denuclearize and are urging the U.S. president to take action,” he said.
The Asian Forum Japan’s Senior Fellow, Jonathan Berkshire Miller, said that following the “humiliating” summit in Hanoi, Kim used his address to reiterate to the international community that North Korea wasn’t looking to have all sanctions dating back to 2009 removed, but the sanctions that have been the most impactful.
Miller explains those are the sanctions that came after 2016 and have “effectively cut off North Korea, their supplies for coal, copper, crude oil, those are the ones that basically North Korea wanted relief [from].”
Sohae launch facility
Between Feb. 16 and March 2, the Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea project of the Henry L. Stimson Center, detected structures on the launch pad at the Tongchang-ri launch site, also known as Sohae, had been rebuilt, although now it appeared activity had ceased.
“Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) shows no changes to the launch pad or engine test stand between March 8 and March 13,” according to a post on the 38 North website.
The site further explained, “In imagery from March 8, the construction observed over the past few weeks seemed to have been completed and the two facilities had been cleared of debris. At the launch pad, the rail-mounted transfer/processing structure had been moved to the edge of the pad and the environmental cover had been closed around the gantry tower. In imagery from March 13, the transfer structure remains in the same position and the environmental cover still conceals the gantry tower.”
Kim Yong-hyun said the activity at Sohae may have been a ploy by North Korea to change the bargaining dynamics between Pyongyang and Washington.
Seoul’s Korea Times newspaper quotes South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense expressing “uncertainty” if the activity at the Sohae facility signaled a true intention to carry out a launch.
“[Kim Jong Un] pretended to play the Tongchang-ri card, but never intended to fire a missile to place pressure on the United States,” Kim Yong-hyun said.
Miller also characterized the developments at Sohae as a way for North Korea to place additional pressure on Washington leading up to the summit to signal that the talks are a “fragile process,” but that approach didn’t yield the results Pyongyang had hoped for.
The activity at Sohae “doesn’t necessarily really surprise me,” Miller said.
Miller asserts that since activity was taking place before the Hanoi summit, it was not being conducted as a reactionary tool from no deal being struck in Hanoi.
“I don’t think that really falls in the line of the way that the North Koreans approach things. I mean, they’re actually very rational, very calculated,” he said.
Lee Ju-hyun contributed to this report.