- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2019

Friction over deadlocked nuclear talks intensified Thursday with North Korea, as Pyongyang accused the U.S. of engaging in a “stupid” and “hostile provocation” by convening a U.N. Security Council meeting on the rising threat of escalation posed by the North’s recent military tests.

The heated rhetoric from a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman came as debate mounted in the Trump administration over Pyongyang’s ongoing demand that Washington offer more concessions by the end of 2019 if it wants talks to resume.

The White House stayed silent Thursday on a report by The Washington Times that a high-level North Korean defector has warned President Trump in a letter that he has been “tricked” into believing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will ever give up his nuclear weapons.

SEE ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: High-level, N.K. defector implores Trump to foment coup; tells president he’s been duped

The defector told Mr. Trump that Washington should be ramping up a “psychological warfare campaign” aimed at inspiring North Korea’s elites to replace North Korea’s young dictator from within, while simultaneously imposing “all-out sanctions” against Pyongyang.

The stark arguments in the defector’s letter led one North Korea analyst to assert that “we need a better class of dictator in North Korea to agree to what we mean by denuclearization.”

“The Kim Jong-un regime will never agree to it,” said Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. While he would not speculate on the defector’s prediction that North Korean elites could replace the young dictator from within, he agreed the Trump administration should now be “much more forcefully” imposing sanctions pressure on Pyongyang while also engaging in a robust international “diplomatic effort to stigmatize North Korea.”

“If we keep our nerve and keep up a coherent long-term approach, we can systematically reduce North Korea’s killing force — their nuclear and conventional capabilities and their ability to menace South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and others,” Mr. Eberstadt said. “They’re not a nice dance partner, but they’re not going to get any nicer if they get concessions from us that speed their ability to incinerate San Francisco.”

Less hawkish analysts suggested Mr. Trump instead consider short-term concessions for North Korea to keep alive the prospect of reviving nuclear talks that have been at a standstill for nearly a year.

The debate comes as the White House engages in the delicate dance of both admonishing Pyongyang over more than a dozen ballistic missile tests it has carried out in recent months, while also seeking fresh momentum for Mr. Trump’s historic personal diplomatic outreach to Mr. Kim.

During a U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft criticized North Korea’s recent missile tests as “deeply counterproductive,” saying they risk closing the door on prospects for negotiating peace. At the same time, she said the Trump administration is “prepared to be flexible” and take concrete, parallel steps toward an agreement on resuming talks.

Pyongyang did not respond positively

“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is too natural that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday in a statement.

The statement defended North Korea’s tests as being aimed at improving self-defense and pointed out that the United States tests ICBMs freely.

“We will never tolerate the U.S. for fostering the mood of pressure against North Korea by spearheading the [U.N. Security Council] public meeting,” the ministry said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

“The U.S. took a stupid act like hitting at its own foot with an ax by holding the meeting,” the statement added.

It remains to be seen how the increased tension will impact attempts by U.S. Special Representative Stephen E. Biegun to engage North Korean officials, likely on the sidelines of a visit he is expected to make to South Korea next week.

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