FOLLOWING a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, North Korea is shifting the focus of negotiations, pivoting away from an end to the Korean War in favour of economic benefits and sanctions relief.
Throughout negotiations, North Korea has maintained its insistence that the US concede “corresponding measures” before it makes meaningful progress on its promised denuclearisation. Up until recently, this was largely focused on securing an official end of war declaration, which would require a signature from the White House.
America has been reluctant to follow through on this, despite President Donald Trump reportedly promising he would do so. The stand-off resulted in talks stalling and little progress being made since Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un back in June.
But following Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang on Oct 7, the discourse has shifted away from peace to the sanctions that are currently crippling North Korea’s economy.
In an article published Tuesday on government mouthpiece KCNA, the US’s plans to maintain and even strengthen sanctions came under harsh criticism.
“Considering how much time has passed since we stopped our nuclear tests and suspended our ICBM launches, it is only right for the sanctions to disappear accordingly, considering that they were concocted on the pretext of those actions,” reads the column, entitled What can we learn from the nasty things being said in the US?
“It’s customary to give back as much as you take, but the US keeps taking without giving anything in return.”
The end of war declaration, once a regular in North Korean think pieces, wasn’t mentioned once, while sanctions were repeatedly brought up and admonished.
Sanctions are believed to be one of the major bargaining chips in the upcoming negotiations between North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and US State Department Special Representative for North Korean Policy Stephen Biegun. The talks will precede the second US-North Korea Summit expected between Trump and Kim.
Experts believe the shift in focus may be down to an understanding on the end of war declaration being reached when Pompeo visited earlier in the month.
Following Pompeo’s past visits, the North Korean foreign ministry has reiterated its desire for the US to expediate the declaration. This visit had no such statement.
The North’s call for easing sanctions is in line with Kim’s new focus on his country’s economy after fulfilling his regimes goal of developing nuclear weapons.
Russia and China are supporting Pyongyang’s calls for sanction relief, issuing a joint statement after trilateral negotiations in Moscow on Oct 9.
As well as boosting the economy, easing sanctions could allow the international community to offer more humanitarian support to North Korean citizens, whose lives have suffered under the strictest economic sanctions yet to hit the hermit kingdom.