- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2021

North Korea on Tuesday spurned the Biden administration’s offer to meet “anywhere, anytime without preconditions.”

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a statement saying the U.S. side will find only “disappointment” if it thinks Pyongyang will rejoin stalled nuclear talks, suggesting the Kim regime seeks first to receive concessions from Washington likely in the form of sanctions relief.

The assertion from Kim Yo-jong, a key figure in the North’s ruling regime, came after Biden administration officials expressed hope for renewed talks, following a statement by Mr. Kim last week that his country must prepare for dialogue or confrontation with the United States.

The Biden administration’s newly appointed envoy for North Korea policy made headlines Monday by saying U.S. officials were eager for such dialogue and hoped Pyongyang would “respond positively to our outreach.”

The opposite appeared to be occur Tuesday, with Ms. Kim saying, “It seems that the U.S. may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself,” according to The Associated Press, which cited a statement circulated by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“The expectation, which they chose to harbor the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment,” she said.

The back-and-forth underscores the challenges at play within the Biden administration’s push to get some form of diplomacy going with the North Koreans.

Dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang briefly reached historic levels during the Trump administration, with Mr. Trump meeting three separate times with Mr. Kim. However, the meetings fell short of producing any major agreement for the North Korean regime to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

The North’s weapons program has been built up clandestinely for decades in violation of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions and the imposition of international sanctions against the Kim regime.

Tensions with the regime have simmered during the past two years.

North Korean state media reported last week that Mr. Kim has ordered his government to be prepared for dialogue and confrontation with the Biden administration. It cited him as stressing “the need to get prepared for both,” but “especially to get fully prepared for confrontation.”

Analysts have said it’s unlikely Mr. Biden would pursue the kinds of high-stakes direct meetings with Mr. Kim that Mr. Trump favored. The administration instead has made moves signaling a return to something akin to the policy of “strategic patience” embraced during the final years of the George W. Bush administration and throughout the Obama era, when Mr. Biden was vice president.

The approach revolves around efforts to continue isolating Pyongyang through U.S. and United Nations sanctions while pursuing so-called “working-level” dialogue with the Kim regime that avoids rewarding the regime with any major diplomatic overtures or up-front sanctions relief.

Ambassador Sung Kim, whom Mr. Biden tapped last month to serve as U.S. special envoy for North Korea, said during a visit to South Korea on Monday that the Biden administration is eager to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, anytime without preconditions.”

North Korean state media has previously called on the U.S. to lift its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang as a precondition for talks — an apparent reference to the U.S.-led sanctions and regular military drills with South Korea.

But experts say the Biden administration won’t ease sanctions or make other major concessions before North Korea takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

While Ambassador Kim said Monday that the administration is eager for talks, he stressed Washington’s commitment to keeping sanctions in place against the North.

“We will also urge all U.N. member states, especially U.N. Security Council members, to do the same, to address the threat posed to the international community by [North Korea],” the U.S. special envoy said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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