Kim Sister Derides U.S. Official, Dismisses Chances for Talks

SEOUL, South Korea -
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Sung Kim (L) shakes hands with South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young during their meeting to discuss North Korea issues at the Unification Ministry on June 22, 2021 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Pool via REUTERS)

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dismissed prospects for an early resumption of diplomacy with the United States, saying Tuesday that U.S. expectations of talks would “plunge them into a greater disappointment.”

Kim Yo Jong’s blunt statement indicates that the diplomatic impasse over North Korea’s nuclear program is likely to continue unless the North suffers greater economic and pandemic-related difficulties, some experts said.

Hope for a restart of nuclear talks flared briefly after Kim Jong Un said last week that his country must be ready for both dialogue and confrontation, though more for confrontation. U.S. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan called Kim’s comments an “interesting signal.”

On Tuesday, Kim Yo Jong derided Sullivan’s response.

“It seems that the U.S. may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself,” the official Korean Central News Agency quoted her as saying. “The expectation, which they chose to harbor the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment.”

Shin Beomchul, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said North Korea has been communicating the same message for months – that it has no intention to return to talks unless the United States offers meaningful concessions, likely in the form of eased economic sanctions. The Biden administration, for its part, doesn’t want to budge either, he said.

“Both parties are locked in a waiting game — North Korea wants the United States to make concessions first, and the United States has no intentions to match a level of action the North is demanding,” Shin said.

On Monday, during a visit to Seoul, Sung Kim, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea affairs, said Washington is willing to meet the North “anywhere, anytime without preconditions.” But he stressed that the Biden administration would continue to pressure North Korea with sanctions over its nuclear and missile ambitions.

Just before Kim Yo Jong’s statement was released on Tuesday, Sung Kim met South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-Young and said Washington and Seoul remain committed to seeking the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through diplomacy. Lee said he hoped North Korea would return to the negotiating table at an early date and called the current situation “a very good chance” to resume talks.

As a precondition for the talks’ resumption, North Korea has repeatedly called on the United States to lift its “hostile policy” toward it, 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.