N.Korea Expert Forecasts Long and Winding Talks Over Denuclearization

  • By Ahn Jun-yong

    July 18, 2018 13:59

    North Koreans believe they have the initiative in denuclearization talks with the U.S., because their leader Kim Jong-un’s decision made the dialogue possible, according to a North Korea expert, suggesting a long and winding road ahead in denuclearization talks.

    Lee Sang-soo (45), head of the Korea Center at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Sweden, told the Chosun Ilbo in an interview last Friday, "North Korea's Foreign Ministry has a positive view on the ongoing negotiations with the U.S., but officials at the Workers Party and military see a tough road ahead."

    Lee said, "There are concerns in North Korea that U.S. President Donald Trump may suddenly shift his stance after the mid-term elections in America in November." He added, "As a result, [North Korea] will not step up for talks until it receives primary guarantees over the survival of its ruling system."

    The Korea Center at ISDP is the sole think tank in northern Europe on Korean affairs and was established in May of this year funded by the Korea Foundation. Sweden established diplomatic ties with North Korea in 1973 and is one of the few European countries that opened an embassy in Pyongyang. Lee, a Swedish citizen, gives two annual lectures on North Korean issues in Stockholm and has visited the North six times upon the invitation of the North’s Foreign Ministry. Most recently he visited Pyongyang, Kaesong and the border truce village of Panmunjom in early May, shortly after the inter-Korean summit. 

    Lee Sang-soo talks to the Chosun Ilbo in a hotel in Seoul last Friday.

    Lee said, "The North Koreans showed me the places where President Moon Jae-in and the North Korean leader met, since I was the first foreign guest to visit Panmunjom since the summit." He added that stores and hotels in the North all showed TV footage of the inter-Korean summit. "The North publicized the summit and said they were moved by the 'historic meeting' by the leaders of the two Koreas to create such an atmosphere of peace."

    The North Koreans appeared to be very excited about the summit and believed that the North held the initiative in the talks. "They appeared to be more emotional than during the [inter-Korean] talks in 2007," he said.

    "What North Korea wants right now is not an easing of sanctions, but a security guarantee," Lee said. He explained that no North Korean official mentioned the issue of international sanctions during his visit to the North this time. "They could not advertise [to their people] that they were giving up their nuclear sword in return for food and money and they believed that would be tantamount to walking down the failed path of Libya," Lee said. "North Korea believes that sanctions will be eased organically during the negotiation process with the U.S. and that's why the North is focusing on securing an official declaration of an end to the Korean War."

    "North Korean officials told me that their country is unique by having no acrimonious public opinion and no restraints from any opposition, so if their supreme leader decides to do something, it is done. They cautioned the U.S. and South Korea against being too suspicious of the North.'

    Lee said North Koreans were the deeply offended by former president Lee Myung-bak's "Vision 3000" initiative, which offered to help the North achieve an annual per-capita income of US$3,000 if it gives up its nuclear weapons.

    North Korean officials told Lee, "Does he think we are beggars?"

    Lee considered as the three main obstacles to North Korean denuclearization: a drawn-out negotiation process due to saber-rattling between the U.S. and the North, a shift in China's U.S. and North Korea policy and a failure by the U.S. and South Korean governments to convince their public. "Among North Korea experts in Europe, there are concerns that South Korea's role as a mediator could weaken significantly if the North Korean nuclear crisis drags on and South Korea's economy worsens."

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