SEOUL -Although North Korea’s weekend tirade against US Vice President Joe Biden’s policies may appear to be inflaming tensions, some signs say Pyongyang hasn’t ruled out diplomacy with the new administration in Washington.
Few analysts expect talks to start soon – both countries are preoccupied with problems like the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath – and there are no simple solutions to their most vexing disagreements.However, some observers believe that, despite its threats, North Korea has not fully shut the door on the Biden administration.
“There are signs that Washington and Pyongyang are in the early, cautious stages of a diplomatic dance,” the US-based 38 North programme, which monitors North Korea, said in a report on Monday (May 3).
North Korea issued a series of formal statements on Sunday, slamming Mr Biden’s policies and rhetoric so far into over the same Cold War-style hostilities that were used by the former American presidents.
The statements followed on Friday from the White House, that officials had completed a policy review aimed at completing North Korea’s nuclearization.It said that it would look into diplomacy to achieve this goal, but that it would not pursue a grand bargain with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Although North Korea discussed the study, it did not react directly to the few information that had been published, which some observers interpreted as a sign that Pyongyang is deferring judgment for the time being.
The comments came from lower-level Foreign Ministry officials, did not specifically mention or offend Mr Biden, and the warnings of a “worse situation” were still conditional on US behaviour, according to 38 North.
“It would not be a surprise if both sides use this initial period to probe and posture a bit,” the report said.
Three summit meetings were held with Mr Kim by Republican former president Donald Trump to persuade the North Korean leader to give up his nuclear arsenal, but no major achievement.
Talks have been held since 2019, with North Korea claiming that if the USA does not abandon hostile policies, including tough economic sanctions, it has not taken any interest in negotiations. Only a few days before Mr. Biden took office, Mr. Kim called for nuclear weapons more advanced, saying that “the USA is our biggest enemy.”
North Korea has continued to perform a series of short-range missile tests and develop new weapons, but it has not launched any long-range missiles or tested nuclear weapons since 2017, which would pose a major challenge to Vice President Biden.
“The concern was that North Korea would do something so provocative that the Biden administration would have no room for diplomacy,” said Professor John Delury of South Korea’s Yonsei University.
“But both sides are avoiding p*ssing each other off. They could be calling each other names, but they aren’t.”
38 North’s Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former US government open-source analyst for North Korea, said Reuters that it was noticeable that North Korea did not publish its official Biden administration statements in domestic media on an ongoing basis.
“It indicates Pyongyang is keeping its policy options open,” she said.
The Biden administration took a hard line on human rights, denuclearization, and sanctions while still making diplomatic overtures to Pyongyang, according to US officials. Officials from the United States have said that they are seeking “practical” diplomatic objectives and are willing to talk, but that the ball is in North Korea’s court.
“We have… a very clear policy that centres on diplomacy and it is, I think, up to North Korea to decide whether it wants to engage or not on that basis,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.
Even if both sides wanted to go all in on diplomacy, the ongoing pandemic may make an already difficult process nearly impossible for the near future, Prof Delury said.
“The Covid situation really does constrain diplomatic options and puts both parties in a holding pattern,” he said.