North Korea may be considering engaging with South Korea and the rest of the world, former US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said.
“We’ve seen a sequence of events that many analysts have interpreted as increasingly provocative behaviour by North Korea,” Biegun said on Friday while addressing a webinar co-hosted by George Washington University’s Institute for Korean Studies and the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management, a state-run institute based in Sejong, South Korea.
“But I will say that there’s a school of thought and I’m inclined to believe it that the fact that North Korea is beginning to send external messaging suggests to me that North Korea is at least contemplating the terms under which it will re-engage with the rest of the world,” Yonhap quoted Biegun as saying.
North Korea reopened direct communication channels with South Korea earlier this month, after a 55-day suspension during which it conducted at least four missile tests, including the test launch of what it claims to be a new hypersonic missile.
“It’s very likely that just as the North Korean government was fixated on the US presidential election from mid-2019 until November 3 of 2020, it seems likely that the North Korean regime is also now fixated on the South Korean elections coming up in the spring of next year, which could lead to a change in government from the progressives to the conservative politicians.
“From my point of view, the most important thing is, in fact, a communications link. So I very much welcome the fact that South Korea and North Korea are directly speaking again. And I hope the case will be soon, if it’s not already, that the US will be able to find a way to open and then sustain communications with North Korea for its part,” he added.
Pyongyang has ignored repeated overtures from US President Joe Biden’s administration that it is willing to meet with North Korea “anytime, anywhere without preconditions”.
Biegun, who played a key role in setting up the second US-North Korea summit between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February 2019, said the North hated such “open-ended” proposals.
When asked if North Korea would actually give up its nuclear capability, the former diplomat said the goal of US diplomacy toward the North was to change what was once inconceivable into what is conceivable over time.
“If we could eliminate the hostility that exists on the Korean peninsula, if we began to incentivize an economic relationship with North Korea, if we could begin to broaden the aperture of North Korea’s engagement with the rest of the world, our hope was that we could also begin to make progress on things that today seemed inconceivable such as complete denuclearization.”