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North Korea

Kim Jong-un will use nuclear weapons to push for more from West, ex-South Korean negotiator says

Korean peninsula has entered ‘totally different phase’ and Pyongyang will want economic sweeteners, according to lawmaker involved in six-party talks 

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 10:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 8:38am

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is using his nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to get economic sweeteners from the international community and wants to present the hermit kingdom as a “normal state”, a former head of Seoul’s delegation to the six-party talks said.

Lee Soo-hyuck said the Korean peninsula situation had entered a “totally different phase” now that Pyongyang has nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, giving Kim leverage in his negotiations with the West. 

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Lee represented Seoul at the six-party talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programme in 2003.

The South Korean lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said that Kim would not be satisfied with giving up the nuclear weapons in exchange for a normalisation of ties with the United States, saying that he would also push for economic incentives.

Lee said it was to be expected that Kim would want to bargain with the international community.

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons are worth more than just the normalisation of the relationship with the US,” Lee said.

“Kim will see establishing diplomatic relations with Washington as a matter of course. But he will also go further and demand economic sweeteners.”

Kim will cross the border to the truce village of Panmunjom on Friday for a historic summit with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in.

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At home, he has been stressing the importance of rebuilding the nation’s economy. The official Korean Central News Agency said last week that Kim had “clarified” that with North Korea now a “world-level” political and military power, the ruling party would “concentrate all efforts of the whole party and the country on the socialist economic construction”.

“Kim wants to present North Korea as a normal state to the world, and dismantling the nuclear programme is his diplomatic card,” Lee said. 

“Eventually North Korea will open its market – that’s why it wants to negotiate with Seoul and Washington.”

Chinese experts agreed, saying Kim held a “better card” than his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung because the North was now a de facto nuclear state. But they warned that it could be too “optimistic” to expect Kim to shut down its nuclear test site.

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“There is a big gap between the North Korean and US definitions of denuclearisation ... Washington is demanding a ‘complete, verifiable and irreversible’ dismantlement of the North’s nuclear programme – not just closing down a missile launch centre and stopping nuclear tests,” said Zhang Tuosheng, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test at the Punggye-ri site in September, ratcheting up tensions with Seoul and Washington. 

“The reason Kim’s at the negotiating table is that North Korea has completed its nuclear programme and has ICBMs. It means North Koreans can now sell their nuclear weapons,” Lee said. 

Lee suggested that economic sanctions against Pyongyang could be partly eased after the coming meetings with Seoul and Washington. 

“The UN security resolution is strict, but a partial lifting [of economic sanctions] may be possible after the summit meetings,” Lee said, adding that the decision would be made only if the North showed it was willing to denuclearise.

“Humanitarian assistance or small investments can be given to the North, but Pyongyang must also show it is taking concrete measures [on denuclearisation].”

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The sanctions were imposed on Pyongyang in response to its nuclear and missile tests. China has restricted oil supplies to the North and banned imports of North Korean goods such as textiles and seafood. Deteriorating ties between the two countries were boosted last month when Kim visited Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Lee also acknowledged China’s role in the Korean peninsula negotiations.

“China’s involvement in the upcoming talks is very important,” Lee said. “China still has influence over the North and should be invited to [any future] talks [for peace on the peninsula].” 

Cai Jian, an expert on Sino-North Korean relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, said Pyongyang also needed Beijing’s support, as China has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the use of military measures to solve the nuclear issue on the peninsula, implying that it would not let the Kim regime collapse.

China has long positioned itself as the central state in Korean peninsula diplomacy, harking back to its role along with the US and North Korea in the Korean Armistice Agreement – the 1953 accord that led to an end in hostilities in the Korean war.