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North Korea To End Negotiations If U.S. Doesn't Offer Concessions By Year's End


The Trump administration has tried what it calls a maximum pressure campaign to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea recently ramped up a pressure campaign of its own. It says the U.S. has until the end of the year to offer concessions, otherwise North Korea says it will break off negotiations and adopt a policy Kim Jong Un has called the new way. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Seoul on what that new way might be.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: In recent weeks, a series of North Korean top officials have delivered similar messages - the U.S.'s window of opportunity is closing fast; Pyongyang is not interested in any more fruitless meetings or summits. Publicly, the U.S. does not seem to feel constrained by the ultimatum.


STEPHEN BIEGUN: We do not have a year-end deadline.

KUHN: That's Special Envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun speaking at a Senate confirmation hearing for his new job as deputy secretary of state this week.


BIEGUN: That's an artificial deadline set by the North Koreans, and unfortunately, it's a deadline that they've set upon themselves now.

KUHN: But some U.S.-North Korea experts are concerned about what happens when the clock runs out.

ROBERT CARLIN: We're on the edge of a cliff, and we don't have a lot of time to back away.

KUHN: Robert Carlin is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and former State Department official who has extensive experience negotiating with the North Koreans.

CARLIN: But we have to remember that as bad as things are with North Korea at any one time, they can always get worse. The idea that time is on our side and that we can simply wait out the North Koreans has been proven to be false.

KUHN: It was in this year's New Year's address that Kim Jong Un warned that he might adopt new policies if the U.S. doesn't give him what he wants. Last month, Kim was pictured galloping astride a white horse across Mount Paektu, mythical birthplace of the founder of the first Korean kingdom. State television news anchor, Ri Chun-hee, known for her dramatic delivery read the news.


RI CHUN-HEE: (Through interpreter) All the officials who accompanied him to the top of the mountain felt overflowing emotion and joy. They were convinced that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and further advance the Korean revolution.

KUHN: It's not clear if this means Kim has decided to strike out on his new way, but the reports seemed to suggest that Kim was mulling some weighty strategic decision. Choi Yong-hwan, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea's intelligence services, says whatever the new way includes, it's not looking good.

CHOI YONG-HWAN: (Through interpreter) North Korea may choose to strengthen its nuclear capabilities, deploy nuclear weapons they already have or work on completing advanced missile technologies they haven't completed yet.

KUHN: Choi adds that the new way would likely emphasize economic self-sufficiency in the face of sanctions and diplomatic reliance on China and Russia. None of these are, in fact, very new, but what worries Robert Carlin is the U.S.'s reaction if the North goes back to testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

CARLIN: I think there's going to be a ferocious American response. I don't think people understand the chemistry in the United States that will take hold when it's clear to people that they themselves are targeted by North Korean missiles.

KUHN: Kim Jong Un may reveal his decision when he gives his next annual New Year's address.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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