Representative Sung Kim Passed the Ball Back; North Korea Needs an Incentive

Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea, said, “Hopefully, Chairman Kim’s reference to dialogue indicates that we will get a positive response soon,” and, “We continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively for our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere, anytime without precondition.” In expressing anticipation of Kim Jong Un’s remarks, he handed the dialogue over to North Korea.

Special representatives from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan met in Seoul on June 21 to coordinate their policy toward North Korea. The meeting took place four days after Chairman Kim said his country must prepare “for both dialogue and confrontation” and that expectations were high. If a message were to be released in advance, we could be optimistic about the full-fledged negotiation between North Korea and the U.S.

However, the message that would lead North Korea to dialogue has not been released. South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have focused only on urging North Korea to send a clearer and more specific message of dialogue. Washington’s White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also added, “We are waiting for a clear signal from Pyongyang on whether they are prepared to sit at the table.”

It is fortunate that North Korea and the U.S. exchange their positions in “words” rather than confrontation. It can be evaluated as a step closer to negotiations. However, since the Biden administration introduced a practical and diplomatic policy toward North Korea in April, the two sides have been in a close race for three months. In fact, in response to Chairman Kim’s mention of both dialogue and confrontation, Sung Kim’s statement that “we will be prepared for either” was not the language of dialogue.

Currently, North Korea presents the withdrawal of its hostile policy as a condition for dialogue, while the United States demands the resumption of dialogue without conditions, each waiting for the other to change their position. In order to open the door in such a sluggish situation, both the U.S. and North Korea must reverse the mood by lowering the threshold for dialogue. The U.S. alone needs to refine its vague dialogue message rather than pressuring North Korea to respond, and consider ways to support North Korea, which admitted economic difficulties.

If the incentives for North Korea are unclear, the justification for North Korea to respond to dialogue is bound to be weak.

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