Biden has little to urge Kim Jong Un to stop weapons testing

The last time a US president visited Seoul in 2019, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed to restart nuclear talks in an impromptu meeting in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone.

As Joe Biden prepares to land in Seoul on Friday, the White House has not indicated he will be heading to the DMZ. Nor can he do much to convince Kim to return to the negotiating table as the North Korean leader prepares to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile and possibly conduct his first nuclear test since 2017.

US pressure to isolate Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, coupled with growing animosity toward China, has allowed Kim to bolster his nuclear deterrent without fear of facing further sanctions at the UN Security Council. the UN. Russia or China are unlikely to back any moves against North Korea, as they did in 2017 following a series of weapons tests that prompted Trump to warn against “fire and fury”.

Although North Korea remains impoverished and faces its first widespread outbreak of COVID-19, the nation has shown it can survive under the current set of economic sanctions and will not stand for sanctions relief. according to Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector who now runs a business in South Korea that monitors the economy of his former home.

“There is no incentive for Kim Jong Un to resume high-stakes nuclear negotiations in exchange for economic incentives,” she said. “Nuclear weapons have now become an essential tool for the survival of the Kim regime. It is not a bargaining chip for budget sweeteners.

The White House has largely avoided harsh reactions to Kim’s latest tests, including a March 24 ICBM launch. South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk Yeol has also offered a “bold” nuclear disarmament aid package.

Sung Kim, the US special envoy for North Korea, said last month that the administration had received no response from North Korea to repeated invitations for dialogue without preconditions.

“We hope the North Koreans will accept our invitation to engage in serious and sustained dialogue,” Sung Kim said. “We are willing and ready to address any serious concerns they may have regarding their situation on the peninsula.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said as Biden left on the trip that North Korea had shown no indication of being ready for serious talks and there was no indication that Kim Jong Un wanted to meet the president. American.

The North Korean leader has been wary of any deal that would see him give up his nuclear weapons, especially after Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed at the hands of US-backed rebels after giving up his weapons of mass destruction in exchange for an easing of sanctions in 2003.

North Korea’s threat was much less when it concluded its two main nuclear agreements. A 1994 deal to halt its nuclear program in exchange for a proliferation-resistant light-water reactor came about when North Korea relied on anti-Soviet Scud missiles and barely had enough fissile material for a bomb test. The second came a dozen years later, when the regime was offered heavy fuel oil worth around $665 million in exchange for shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear power plant, which was producing enough plutonium for about one bomb a year.

Today, North Korea’s nuclear program is much larger. Experts estimate that it can produce enough fissile material for six to eight nuclear bombs per year. Its missile program includes a set of rockets that are fast to deploy, maneuverable in the air and can reach the American continent.

Even if North Korea returned what it has now, the country would still retain the expertise to rebuild parts of its program.

“Most people who watch North Korea agree that the chances of a negotiated settlement are pretty much zero,” said Stephan Haggard, professor of Korea-Pacific studies at UC San Diego and an expert on North Korea. North Korean economy. “For alliance management purposes and to maintain high ground, the United States and South Korea have no choice but to continue to offer talks.”

Kim has also found ways to evade punishment through cybercrime and cryptocurrency theft. Investigators from the United States and the United Nations said his regime had already banked nearly $3 billion – or about 10% of its annual savings – from cybercrime, and was on the verge of more. harvest even more.

The sanctions regime showed cracks in things like oil imports. A UN Security Council panel of experts report released earlier this year said North Korea had exceeded its 500,000-barrel cap on annual imports by about 25,000 barrels. Additionally, an oil pipeline between Dandong in China and Sinuiju in North Korea was sanction-free and could supply more than 500,000 tonnes (3.7 million barrels) of oil per year, according to a report by specialists David von Hippel and Peter Hayes.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also helps North Korea, von Hippel, senior associate for energy and environmental issues at the Nautilus Institute, said in an email.

“The war in Ukraine will make it a little easier for the DPRK to import petroleum products and export coal to circumvent sanctions,” he said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

People sit near a screen showing a news program at a train station in Seoul on May 12, 2022, of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un removing a face mask on television to order nationwide lockdowns after that the country has confirmed its first-ever cases of COVID-19.

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