SEOUL - North Korea will not resume nuclear talks unless the United States unconditionally accepts its demands, a senior North Korean official said Saturday.
“We have wasted our time with U.S. for more than a year and a half,” said Kim Kye Gwan, a North Korean vice foreign minister, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim, a senior diplomat, said Kim Jong Un’s relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump remains positive, noting that Kim recently received birthday greetings from Trump.
“But it is a personal thing and our chairman, who represents the state and works for the benefit of the state, will not make decisions based on his personal relationship,” Kim added.
"For dialogue to happen, the U.S. must unconditionally accept our demands. However, we know that the U.S. is not ready to do so, or cannot do so,” he added.
The North Korean diplomat did not say what North Korea is demanding. North Korea regularly complains about U.S. and international sanctions, as well as joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and weapons sales.
The U.S.-North Korea talks have been stalled since February, when a Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended abruptly over a disagreement on how to pair sanctions relief with steps to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kim, the North Korean diplomat, said “there will be no negotiations like in Vietnam, in which we proposed exchanging a core nuclear facility of the country for the lifting of some U.N. sanctions.”
Over the last two years, Trump and Kim have exchanged personal letters. Trump has hinted the two also talk on the phone. Last week, Trump insisted the relationship remains “very good,” despite U.S.-North Korea talks being stalled.
The latest reported Trump-Kim interaction came this week, when Trump sent birthday greetings to the North Korean leader, who is believed to have turned 36 on Wednesday.
South Korea said Friday it had relayed the birthday message following a meeting between Trump and South Korea’s national security adviser.
However, KCNA reported Saturday that North Korea had already received Trump’s greetings directly in the form of a personal letter. KCNA mocked South Korea for attempting to mediate between Washington and Seoul.
“They seem not to know that there is a special liaison channel between the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S.,” the diplomat Kim said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
“It seems [South Korea] still has lingering hope for playing the role of ‘mediator’ in the DPRK-U.S. relations," he said, saying it is "presumptuous for south Korea to meddle in the personal relations between Kim and Trump."
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has prioritized dialogue with the North, met with Kim three times in 2018. The inter-Korean relations at least initially helped smooth the way for the Trump-Kim talks in early 2018.
As U.S.-North Korea negotiations stalled, though, Pyongyang abandoned the inter-Korean talks, apparently in frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to move ahead with joint projects without U.S. support.
Two years into dialogue with North Korea, the only apparent remnant is the occasional Trump-Kim letter. Even that relationship may be at risk, however, if North Korea resumes longer-range missile or nuclear tests, as it has been hinting.
“Personal relationships at the top can get a dialogue going, but personal relations alone don’t result in deals," said Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based research organization. "This is what Trump doesn’t appear to understand. He’s banking on his ‘friendship’ with Kim to lead the way to denuclearization."
“Friendship or not, denuclearization left the barn a long time ago,” DePetris added.
Many analysts are pessimistic about the short-term chances for talks.
“North Korea has made clear it will not return to the talks unless the U.S. offers new proposals,” Kim Dong Yub, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said at a Seoul conference Friday.
The North Korean leader has not likely abandoned talks altogether, however, Kim said. “The U.S. is the only country that can help North Korea be a normal nation in the international community,” he added.