SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Last year was a disaster for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
He watched helplessly as the country’s crippled economy collapsed amid a pandemic border closure as he pondered the collapse of summits on television with former President Donald Trump that failed to lift his country’s crippling sanctions.
Now he has to start over with President Joe Biden, who previously called Kim a “thug” and accused Trump of pursuing performances instead of significant cuts to Kim’s nuclear arsenal.
Although Kim has vowed to step up his nuclear program in his latest political speeches, he has also tried to start Biden, saying the fate of their relationship depends on Washington rejecting what he calls hostile US policy.
It is not clear how patient Kim will be. North Korea has a history of testing new US administrations with rocket launches and other provocations aimed at forcing Americans to return to the negotiating table.
During recent military parades in Pyongyang, Kim unveiled new weapons he could test, including solid-fuel ballistic systems designed to be fired from vehicles and submarines, as well as North̵
Reviving tensions would force the United States and South Korea to consider more closely the possibility that Kim will never voluntarily hand over the weapons she considers her strongest guarantee of survival.
Kim’s arsenal emerged as a major threat to the United States and its Asian allies after tests in 2017 that included the detonation of an alleged thermonuclear warhead and ICBM flight tests that demonstrated the potential to reach deep into the American homeland.
A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and the United States, but it derailed in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major easing of sanctions in exchange for a partial deal, a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
North Korea is unlikely to be a top priority for Biden, who, while facing growing domestic problems, is also preparing to push for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump blew up in favor of what he called maximum pressure on Iran.
“The consistency of the Biden administration’s political focus is likely to be: Arrange America’s own home, strengthen American alliances and align strategies with China and Russia, and then turn to Iran and North Korea,” Leif-Eric Isley said. professor at Eva University in Seoul.
But North Korea never likes to be ignored.
Although Biden was vice president under Barack Obama, whose policy was to wait for North Korea as it gradually increased sanctions, this method may not work, as North’s weapons capabilities have increased significantly in the years since.
While sanctions, border closures and natural disasters killing crops have created the worst challenges for Kim’s nine-year rule, he will not be in a hurry to offer concessions, Isley said. Kim’s government has a high tolerance for domestic suffering and could expect significant help from China, its only major ally.
North Korea’s first Biden-led provocation may have been related to submarine-launched ballistic systems that Kim demonstrated at recent parades.
Kim’s ambitions for a longer-range ICBM and reconnaissance satellites, which he expressed during the ruling party’s congress this month, could lead to a space launch that will double as a test for long-range missile technology. That would be reminiscent of the 2009 launch, which took place weeks after Obama’s first term.
“(The North) is capable of conducting tests that the United States and its allies cannot ignore,” Isley said. “Kim will probably use this.”
The North Korean leader is trying to focus diplomacy on arms reduction talks between nuclear powers, rather than on talks that end in full arms transfers, according to Shin Beomchul, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korean National Strategy Research Institute.
But North Korea is unlikely to test weapons until Biden addresses the Union in February, where he could set the tone for his policy toward the North, Shin said. Kim may also ask whether the United States and South Korea continue with a major joint military exercise expected in March.
Although the Allies described their annual exercises as defensive and reduced much of their combined training under Trump’s leadership to make room for diplomacy, North Korea called for a complete halt to the exercises, describing them as rehearsals for invasion and evidence of hostility. of the United States.
“The North has made it clear during the party’s congress that it has no intention of backing down first, but it is also interested in hearing what the United States has to say,” said Shin, who served as a South Korean diplomat during the Obama years.
“Biden will not inherit Trump’s top-down diplomacy, but you can expect him to be more flexible in working-class negotiations, offering to talk to North Koreans at any time and place and on anything,” he said. .
Shin expects Biden to eventually strike a deal with North Korea that resembles the agreement with Iran that Trump withdrew in 2018. He could provide North Korea with some level of compensation to freeze its nuclear and missile capabilities at their current level. .
Although the United States is unlikely to give up its long-term commitment to denuclearizing North Korea, returning the country’s nuclear capabilities to zero is not a realistic short-term diplomatic goal, he said.
But the Iranian-style deal may not work with North Korea, which has much more modern weapons and is unlikely to adopt the monitoring steps included in the Iranian deal, said Park Won Gon, a professor at South Korea’s Handong University.
But one thing is clear, Park said: If North Korea tests its weapons, Biden will impose sanctions that will continue to push Kim’s economy to the brink.