The Trump administration has reached out to North Korea to resume diplomatic negotiations after the two countries broke off talks in October, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Axios.
“We’ve reached out to the North Koreans and let them know that we would like to continue the negotiations in Stockholm that were last undertaken in early October,” O’Brien told the news outlet.
He added: “We’ve been letting them know, through various channels, that we would like to get those [negotiations] back on track and to implement Chairman Kim’s commitment” to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The comments come the same month that Kim asserted that there “will never” be denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula if the US “persists in its hostile policy towards” the hermit nation, according to the country’s state news agency. Working-level talks between the US and North Korea halted last year in Stockholm, Sweden, where US officials said they “had good discussion” while North Korea’s top negotiator blamed the ended talks on Washington.
“The break-up of the negotiation without any outcome is totally due to the fact that the US would not give up their old viewpoint and attitude,” Kim Myong Gil, North Korea’s top negotiator, said at the time. But the State Department disagreed with Kim’s characterization, saying his comments “do not reflect the content or the spirit of today’s 8 ½ hour discussion.”
While North Korea may be publicly blaming the Trump administration for the stalled talks, political calculations are also likely at play. A source familiar with the North Korean leadership’s current mindset said last month that Pyongyang views Trump as politically vulnerable due to his impeachment and the looming 2020 presidential election.
Still, O’Brien told Axios that it’s a “positive” that Kim has yet to deliver on his “Christmas gift” to the United States, which some have interpreted as a sign that North Korea could resume long-distance missile tests.
“The President suggested he send him a vase. We didn’t get a vase or any other sort of Christmas gift. That appears to be positive,” O’Brien said. “All we know is we were told we were going to get a Christmas gift and the Christmas gift didn’t come. And so I think that was an encouraging sign. But, again, that doesn’t mean we won’t see some sort of test in the future.”
Last month, former national security adviser John Bolton issued a sharp rebuke of the White House’s approach to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, asserting that “the idea that we are somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is just unfortunately not true.”
Bolton told Axios he does not think the White House “really means it” when Trump pledges to halt the hermit nation from nuclear weapon development or “it would be pursuing a different course.”
“We’re now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons,” he said.