US attempts to communicate with North Korea have included the “New York Channel” – through the North Korean mission at the United Nations.
A US official told Reuters there had been “multiple attempts” to engage with North Korea, but no meaningful contact for more than 12 months, which includes much of Donald Trump’s final year as president.
President Biden has already announced a policy review on North Korea, which is expected to be unveiled in April.
He has called Kim Jong-un a thug and stressed the need for North Korean nuclear disarmament before heavy US and UN economic sanctions can be eased.
Kim Jong-un has continued to emphasize North Korea’s military capability, claiming the development of more accurate long-range missiles, super large warheads, spy satellites and a nuclear-powered submarine.
At the same time the North Korean leader has called on the US to ditch its “hostile policies”.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are expected to feature prominently during this week’s visit to Japan and South Korea by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Relations between the US and North Korea plummeted in 2017 when North Korea tested long-range missiles capable of hitting American cities.
Tensions eased as President Trump bet on developing a personal rapport with Kim Jong-un.
However, the much-trumpeted meetings, including summits in Singapore and Vietnam, failed to overcome differences over nuclear disarmament and sanctions. The US rebuffed North Korean demands for the lifting of sanctions in return for only a partial reduction in nuclear capabilities.
North Korea is currently more cut off from the outside world than ever before. Its borders have been closed for over a year to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Trade with North Korea’s main ally China has dwindled by more than 90% in the last few months.
Pyongyang threatened to make the US “pay the price for its crime… thousands of times,” referring to America’s role in drafting the UN sanctions resolution.
Speaking to reporters at a regional forum in the Philippine capital, Manila, North Korean spokesman Bang Kwang Hyuk said: “The worsening situation on the Korean peninsula, as well as the nuclear issues, were caused by the United States.
“We affirm that we’ll never place our nuclear and ballistic missiles program on the negotiating table, and won’t budge an inch on strengthening nuclear armament.”
The remarks come after reports emerged that the North and South Korean foreign ministers had met briefly on August 6 on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila.
South Korean media reported that its Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha shook hands with her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, in a brief and unarranged meeting at an official dinner event.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Kang Kyung-wha as saying that Ri Yong Ho’s rejection of the talks proposal appeared to be connected to the new sanctions.
“I told him that [the two offers for talks] are an urgent matter that should be carried out immediately with any political agenda put aside and asked him to proactively react,” she was quoted as saying.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told journalists on August 7: “My feeling is that the North did not entirely reject the positive proposals raised by the South.”
Wang Yi added that China also supported South Korea’s initiatives, and was “100%” committed to enforcing the latest round of UN sanctions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also at the ASEAN forum, where he spoke about North Korea.
Noting Russia and China’s participation in the unanimous vote, Rex Tillerson told journalists it was clear there was now “no daylight among the international community” on their desire for North Korea to stop its tests.
“The best signal that North Korea can give us [is] that they are prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” he added.
Russia and China have previously differed with others on how to handle Pyongyang, but in recent months have joined calls for North Korea to stop its missile tests – while also urging the US and South Korea to halt military drills, and withdraw an anti-missile system from the South.
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