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Prospects dim for US-N. Korea nuclear talks: ministry

Dec. 17, 2019 - 16:30 By Park Han-na
Prospects are dim for denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea next year, with the possibility of the communist regime escalating military tension, the South Korean government said Tuesday.

“If there is no progress in North Korea-US negotiations by the year-end deadline, the possibility of North Korea’s leader declaring the suspension of the talks in his New Year’s address cannot be ruled out,” the Unification Ministry said in a press release on its evaluation of the situation involving North Korea in 2019 and the outlook for 2020. 

In this June 30, 2019, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the North Korean side of the border at the village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone. (AP-Yonhap)

North Korea has repeatedly urged Washington to return to the negotiating table with a more flexible proposal, such as the lifting of sanctions and the halt of South Korea-US joint military exercises, by the end of the year.

The US asserts that it has offered creative ways to proceed, with feasible steps and flexibility in negotiations, which seem to have fallen short of meeting Pyongyang’s demands.

In light of the circumstances, the Unification Ministry said the North may heighten military tension on the Korean Peninsula.

“But we expect that North Korea will continue to seek dialogue in accordance with a shift in the US policy while refraining from extreme confrontation, which it did in 2017,” a ministry official said.

North Korea conducted three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017, before it imposed a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, which US President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited as one of his major foreign affairs achievements.

Meanwhile, the deadlock in inter-Korean relations is likely to be protracted, as the North believes that the South Korean government’s hands are tied and that it is unable to play an independent role in making progress in relations.

With next year marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the last year of its five-year economic plan, the regime is expected to make all-out effort to achieve self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Construction projects to expand tourism infrastructure and promotional activities to attract foreign tourists will continue next year.

“It is necessary to pay attention to what the North will achieve. … It will continue to strengthen relations and economic cooperation with China and Russia in order to overcome the economic sanctions as well as use the relations as leverage against the US,” the official said.

North Korea’s gross domestic product has been on a downward spiral in the last two years, as international sanctions have taken a toll on its economy. However, indicators that impact people’s livelihoods -- such as the prices of rice and crude oil as well as foreign exchange rates -- are stable, raising questions about the effectiveness of sanctions on the North.

“Given that the (North’s) GDP has contracted for two years in a row, it is hard to say that sanctions didn’t affect its economy. We need to take into account that North Korea is not a market economy,” the official said.

By Park Han-na (