North Korea’s diminutive dictator, Kim Jong-un, has thus far seemed to mostly ignore the Biden administration, rather than seeking to extend the negotiations that had been taking place while Donald Trump was president. In return, Joe Biden hasn’t had much to say (at least in public) about any sort of negotiations seeking the dismantling of Kim’s nuclear weapons program. But is that about to change? Biden named Sung Kim as his special envoy to North Korea earlier this year and now we’re getting word that Sung Kim is figuratively rolling out the red carpet in case the tiny tyrant feels like chatting. A message has reportedly been delivered to Pyongyang offering a meeting with envoys from the United States, South Korea, and Japan to discuss both sanctions and the North’s nuclear program. Given that Kim recently admitted that his country is running out of food, perhaps he will be in a more talkative mood now. (The Hill)
President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea said Monday he hopes to see a positive reaction from the North soon on U.S. offers for talks after North Korea’s leader ordered officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation.
Sung Kim, Biden’s special representative for North Korea, was in Seoul to speak with South Korean and Japanese officials about the United States’ stalled diplomacy with the North over its nuclear program and U.S.-led sanctions.
The trilateral talks followed a North Korean political conference last week where leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger efforts to improve his nation’s economy, further battered last year by pandemic border closures and now facing worsening food shortages.
Sung Kim described the proposal as “our offer to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions.”
I’m not against getting all of the parties involved talking again, even if the prospects for a favorable result still seem bleak. But with that said, I distinctly remember some Democrats blasting Donald Trump for agreeing to meet with Kim Jong-un a couple of years ago. Following the collapse of the second summit between Kim and Trump, Nancy Pelosi called Kim “the big winner” in the summit. She also said that the dictator was “not on the level” and implied that the meetings were a waste of time.
So is Kim Jong-un suddenly a trusted negotiating partner now that Joe Biden is in the White House? No matter how he’s being viewed, at least it doesn’t sound like Biden is ready to put preemptive lifting of sanctions on the table. Sung Kim reportedly sounded optimistic about the prospects of a meeting but reiterated the current policy calling for the sanctions to remain in place until some concrete progress on denuclearization has been shown.
If that’s the case, then it doesn’t seem as if much of anything has changed. Kim knows he can’t give up his nuclear weapons program because that’s the only card he has to play. The fact that his country is facing another famine is unlikely to sway his position. After all, he’s allowed his own people to starve in the past.
I’m not going to criticize President Biden for this approach or his failure to find a solution to the problem of Kim Jong-un and his nukes. From all appearances, there isn’t any solution to that mess aside from waiting Kim out. The only other option would be a direct military strike, but I’m fairly sure nobody wants to see that, particularly given our current, rocky relationship with China. I’m pretty sure that Xi Jinping wouldn’t care to see a bunch of American military hardware that close to his border.
But who knows? Perhaps Kim will surprise me and start dismantling some of his own missiles and warheads if he believes more food will start flowing into his country. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.