In a statement issued on Saturday in the name of Kim Kye Gwan, advisor to its foreign ministry, North Korea truculently blasted South Korea, telling Seoul “not to officiously interfere.” Pyongyang has reiterated its strategy of continuing dialogue with Washington but excluding Seoul. While the statement reemphasized friendship between the leaders of the U.S and North Korea, the regime also claimed that the bilateral talks can only be resumed if and when the U.S. fully accepts conditions demanded by the North.
Even though the statement was issued by a retired diplomat, it is the North’s first external message in the New Year. North Korea must have issued the statement to truculently mock the South Korean government right after National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong revealed he conveyed U.S. President Trump’s congratulatory message on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday to Pyongyang on Friday. Calling South Korea’s messenger role “noisy,” the statement ruthlessly ridiculed Seoul, by saying, “It would be better for South Korea to be more cautious if it wants to avoid becoming an idiot.”
The actual subject Pyongyang is talking to was Washington. Pyongyang said it directly received U.S. President’s personal letter separately from South Korea’s notice, bragging about friendship between the North Korean and U.S. leaders. Pyongyang said the two leaders have a “special dialogue channel,” and their friendship is “already recognized by the entire world.” Preparing itself for long-term confrontation while delaying major provocations, Pyongyang thus effectively admitted that the only route that its leader is relying on is his friendship with President Trump.
“North Korea has been repeatedly cheated in Pyongyang-Washington dialogue,” the statement added. “Chairman Kim Jong Un will not be addressing state affairs based on his personal feeling.” Pyongyang further elevated its conditions for the resumption of its talks with Washington. It also claimed that negotiations over lifting of sanctions against Pyongyang and dismantling of its Yongbyon nuclear facilities from the February 29 declaration in Hanoi cannot be exchanged. Thus, the North has increased stakes significantly, while saying that it no longer needs Pyongyang-Washington working-level talks, or three-way talks that involves Seoul.
Pyongyang has used Seoul once again as an excuse to send its overture towards Washington. Being ruthless and merciless towards the weak and servile towards the strong is a typical tactic of the Stalinist country. In fact, inter-Korean relations were the first measure that Pyongyang used as a stepping stone to reopen dialogue with Washington. Depending on how and which course it will take, the South Korean administration may be able to recover its stature as “arbitrator” or ‘“facilitator.” However, if Seoul steadfastly maintains blank optimism originating from hospitality Pyongyang displayed towards Seoul one and half a years ago in the North Korean capital, the South will remain a convenient plaything for the North.