The DPRK foreign ministry’s readout of Stockholm talks: key takeaways
North Korea's response to failed working-level negotiations appears to reflect hardened line
North Korea issued a foreign ministry “spokesperson’s press statement [tamhwa]” on the DPRK-U.S. Stockholm working-level talks on October 6, one day after the meeting ended.
The press statement’s purpose appears to have been twofold: a) formalize post-meeting news conference comments by Kim Myong Gil, North Korea’s top negotiator to the DPRK-U.S. nuclear talks, in the form of an official foreign ministry pronouncement; and b) respond to the State Department’s commentary on the working-level talks.
Policy statement on terms for returning to talks — The October 6 foreign ministry pronouncement is North Korea’s official policy statement on nuclear negotiations between now and until the end of the year: that Pyongyang will not return to talks unless the U.S. first withdraws its “hostile policy,” namely by offering security assurances and easing sanctions.
North Korea first introduced a similar concept concept in a low-level “press statement” by the director general of the foreign ministry’s Department of American Affairs on September 16, ahead of the working-level talks with the U.S.
At the time, it appeared to be either a tactical move intended to strengthen its position at the upcoming working-level talks, or a foreshadowing of North Korea’s official policy on nuclear negotiations going forward. It was formalized into a policy in the October 6 foreign ministry “spokesperson’s press statement.”
In North Korea, pronouncements issued on behalf of an institution (in this case the foreign ministry) are more authoritative than those attributed to individuals, irrespective of their rank.
Pyongyang issued a series of low-level, tactical “press statements” attributed to incumbent and former foreign ministry officials in the lead-up to the Stockholm working-level talks, responding to U.S officials’ comments or setting the stage for talks.
Upping the ante — The foreign ministry “spokesperson’s press statement” references to security and economic concerns, when compared to the September 16 pronouncement, were stronger in language and left room for broader interpretation.
The October 6 spokesperson’s press statement says: “We have no desire to engage in disgusting negotiations like this time until the U.S. takes actual steps to completely and irreversibly withdraw its hostile policy toward the DPRK that threatens our national security and undermines our people’s right of existence and development.” [bold added by the author for emphasis]
The September 16 director general’s press statement stipulates: “We will be able to have a denuclearization discussion only when threats and hurdles that disquiet our system’s security and obstruct development are wholly and without room for doubt removed.” [bold added by the author for emphasis]
North Korean state media regularly calls on the U.S. to “withdraw its hostile policy.” However, this appears to be the first time it has used the expression “completely and irreversibly withdraw its hostile policy.”
This strong language — ironically reminiscent of the “complete” and “irreversible” in the U.S.’s CVID (complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization) policy — is notable because it seems to suggest that North Korea during the Stockholm talks may have made bigger demands than anticipated, or that its position hardened after the Stockholm talks ended.
“Completely and irreversibly withdraw” is similar to the “wholly and without room for doubt removed” formulation from September 16.
However, it refers to “hostile policy,” which, though in the context of this statement refers primarily to national security and economic issues, is a broad and vague concept that may be used by North Korea to branch out to other areas of concern. By contrast, the September 16 pronouncement specifically refers to “security” and “development” only.
Leaving the door open for dialogue — The foreign ministry pronouncement in effect rejected the U.S. call for another meeting in two weeks by saying it is “impossible” the U.S. would be able to craft a proposal in two weeks that satisfies North Korea’s expectations.
Yet, it left the door open for further negotiations by saying the “fate of DPRK-U.S. dialogue hinges on the U.S. attitude, and the deadline for that is the end of this year.”
Further underscoring the fact that North Korea wishes to maintain the momentum for talks, it issued this foreign ministry spokesperson’s press statement via external media outlets only. North Korea typically withholds information from the domestic populace when it is potentially sensitive, or when it wishes to maintain flexibility in its future course of action.
If North Korea made its position clear before the Stockholm talks that it will not discuss denuclearization until the U.S. first addresses at least some of its security and economic concerns, it has made that position clearer and on a more official level in an authoritative foreign ministry pronouncement.
Externally, North Korea for more than a year has consistently called for a “phase-by-phase” approach to the nuclear issue, emphasizing that the U.S. should first reward North Korea for the latter’s ICBM and nuclear test moratorium, dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and return of MIA remains.
Domestically, North Korea has since the failure of the Hanoi summit launched various media campaigns that appeared designed to strengthen domestic resilience against outside influence, promote domestic unity, and further solidify Kim Jong Un’s support base.
North Korea’s resumption of weapons tests, for example, likely was just as much out of domestic necessities as it was out of external factors.
In recent weeks, North Korea has characterized strengthening defense capabilities as the nation’s foremost priority, all the while communicating with the U.S. about resuming working-level talks.
This may have been aimed at laying the groundwork for further testing of weapons in case the talks did not go as planned.
In the context of North Korea’s consistent messaging vis-a-vis the U.S. and post-Hanoi domestic developments, it seems unlikely that North Korea will shift from its current policy on nuclear negotiations with the U.S.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK Pro
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