North Korea is playing ‘good cop, bad cop’ with the United States – and it’s working
The U.S. State Department says a recent statement from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is an “interesting signal” that North Korea could be ready for more dialogue.
The “signal” came just two days before Sung Kim, the new U.S. envoy for North Korea, arrived in South Korea to meet with South Korean officials and his Japanese counterpart. The North Korean leader was speaking at a plenary session of the ruling Korean Workers Party when he urged preparation for both dialogue and confrontation with the United States, according to a report from North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA.
"The general secretary stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation, in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development,” says KCNA.
It was the first statement the Kim regime has made about the United States since Joe Biden took over as President in 2021. U.S. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News that Washington would need a much clearer signal from Pyongyang before kick-starting new rounds of talks with the Hermit Kingdom.
A much clearer statement came later in that same week, late June 2021, from Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong. She says the United States would be “disappointed” to interpret her brother’s statement as something to seek “comfort” in.
Kim Yo Jong first made her appearance on the world stage after visiting the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She is known to be the head of North Korea’s propaganda and agitation departments and attended all three in-person meetings between Kim Jong Un and former President Donald Trump.
In 2020, she began openly criticizing Washington’s insistence on complete denuclearization. She also has the authority to sign off on statements that denounce South Korea, Japan and the United States, along with any efforts to undermine the Kim regime by North Korean defectors.
While the leader of North Korea has taken a more conciliatory tone in recent years, especially when meeting with former President Trump, Kim Yo Jong remains firm in the traditional North Korean policy and its standoff-ish tone when it comes to dealing with the United States.
American officials, on the other hand, have softened their tone in the past 20 years, mostly due to progress made at thawing relations during the Trump Administration. Before Trump’s direct engagement with Kim Jong Un, talks between the United States and North Korea traditionally required a group of six countries to discuss denuclearization as the U.S. would not meet directly.
Since the Trump Administration broke that tradition, the U.S. has maintained its stated interest in direct meetings and diplomacy to meet the challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear program. The U.S. State Department says that Kim Yo Jong’s recent comments have not changed the Biden Administration’s desire to pursue direct diplomacy with North Korea. Biden's administration conducted a review of policy and reached a conclusion to seek "calibrated and practical" ways to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearize.
North Korea has not responded favorably to any outreach from the United States since Donald Trump lost the 2020 U.S. election. U.S. envoy Sung Kim remained hopeful for a positive response, saying he would meet the North Koreans "anywhere, anytime without preconditions."
Feature image: Shealah Craighead/ Wikimedia Commons