Before winning the US election, North Korea dismissed Joe Biden as a “low IQ jerk” while the presidential candidate called Kim Jong Un a “thug.”
But following the White House’s announcement that it has completed its North Korean policy development, skepticism is mounting as to whether the president will relinquish this adversarial stance and engage with the dictator. nuclear.
Few details on the plan have been announced, but many foreign policy experts believe the US president has already downgraded Washington’s attention to North Korea – a priority for Donald Trump’s administration – as Biden seeks to tackle domestic issues and focus more on China.
Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who briefed Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama of North Korea, believed Biden’s policy to be “sustaining action, not breakthrough.”
“The administration does not honor his proposal. He realizes that he is unlikely to “solve” the North Korean problem; he is probably trying to keep North Korea silent so that it can focus elsewhere on more pressing priorities that can be resolved, ”she said.
Having now completed the months-long political review, administration officials said Biden would “explore diplomacy” as part of a “calibrated and practical approach.” They were quick to downplay expectations, noting that the last four presidents had failed to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.
“We have.. A very clear policy centered on diplomacy… It is for North Korea to decide whether or not it wants to engage on this basis,” said Monday Antony Blinken, secretary of State.
The review follows a period of turbulence in relations between the United States and North Korea. After escalating animosity and weapons testing, Trump broke protocol and met the North Korean leader three times. As tensions eased, Trump failed to strike a long-term deal.
But Biden quickly distanced himself from Trump and Obama, whom he and much of his foreign policy team served for eight years.
“Our policy will not focus on making a big deal, nor will it be based on ‘strategic patience’,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, referring to Trump’s theatrical summit and the years Obama’s inaction on North Korea.
Pyongyang on Sunday lambasted “Biden’s intention to continue to enforce. . . hostile policy ”and warned that“ in time the United States will find itself in a very serious situation ”.
Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst in North Korea now with think tank Rand Corporation, expected the Kim regime to resume military provocations. “There are few things that hold Pyongyang a tightrope,” she said.
Last month, the US intelligence community’s annual threat assessment warned that North Korea would pose “a growing threat” to America. He said Kim believed he would gain international acceptance as a nuclear power over time and “probably does not view the current level of pressure on his regime as sufficient to demand a fundamental change in his approach.”
Terry, who is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said offering North Korea a “phased deal,” which would essentially offer sanctions relief in exchange for limited nuclear concessions, “makes sense.”
“But in practice it is unlikely to work,” she said. “If Kim sticks to his resolution, the talks will come to naught and I doubt Biden’s team will be very surprised.”
To further complicate the situation, Washington is also trying to manage expectations from Seoul, which favors easing sanctions and increased economic engagement with Pyongyang, and Tokyo, which has a much harder line.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told the Financial Times that diplomacy with North Korea would be “partly bilateral and partly multilateral.”
This wording underscored another priority for the Biden administration: avoiding widening the differences between Japan and South Korea at a time when the United States is trying to work with allies to respond to the growing power of the United States. China.
Biden’s caution towards North Korea also reflected sharp divisions among experts in Washington over the extent to which engagement with North Korea could be successful.
“If I am right to believe that North Korea does not denuclearize, the objective of [Biden administration’s] the policy should be to reduce the danger of these nuclear weapons, ”said William Perry, former US Secretary of Defense.
Despite Pyongyang’s boast, others believe Kim hasn’t completely rejected diplomacy as he seeks relief from damaging economic sanctions.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo, an expert on North Korea at King’s College London, noted several “positive signals” including Kim’s adherence to a de facto moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing since his summit with Trump in Singapore in 2018.
Preparatory work is also underway for possible “second way” talks: indirect talks involving North Korean diplomats and non-state foreign experts, sources familiar with the talks said.
“They certainly left the door open,” said Glyn Ford, a former member of the European Parliament who has close ties with senior North Korean officials. “How open the door is, I don’t know.”