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Is North Korea Looking for Dialogue?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Administrative note: this edition is devoted mostly to the North Korea confrontation where there has been a development.


North Korea-US: Statement update. In the past three days North Korea has issued three statements from different national institutions and directed at the US. They respond to the US invitation to engage in a dialogue. They are discussed in reverse chronological order.



It also issued a statement directed at South Korea rejecting talks. All seem to be derivatives of a 16 April Foreign Ministry statement.


National Defense Commission statement.

On 18 April during this Watch, the Korean Central News Agency and other media published a statement by the National Defense Commission, the highest policy body in North Korea. Excerpts follow. NightWatch added the highlight.


"The Policy Department of the National Defense Commission (NDC) of the DPRK released a statement Thursday, clarifying the principled stand of the DPRK over the U.S. and the South Korean authorities' rhetoric about dialogue."


"The U.S. and the South Korean puppet regime should take a bold decision of taking the following practical measures if they want to shirk (sic) the historical responsibility for the prevailing grave situation on the Korean Peninsula and evade sledge-hammer retaliatory blows of the army and people of the DPRK and if they truly stand for dialogue and negotiations: "


"First, they should immediately stop all their provocative acts against the DPRK and apologize for all of them."


"As the first phase, they should take measures of retracting the UN Security Council's "resolutions on sanctions" cooked up under absurd pretexts. They should bear in mind that doing so would be a token of good will towards the DPRK."


"The South Korean puppet forces should promptly halt all anti-DPRK rackets being kicked up by them, linking their own mishaps such as the Cheonan warship sinking incident and the "March 20 hacking case" to the North."


"Second, they should give formal assurances before the world that they would not stage again such nuclear war drills to threaten or blackmail the DPRK. Dialogue can never go with war actions….."


"Third, they should make a decision to withdraw all nuclear war means from South Korea and its vicinity and give up their attempt to reintroduce them as their immediate duty."


"They should bear in mind that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can begin with the pullout of the nuclear war means introduced by the U.S. and this may lead to the global denuclearization."



"The chief of Chongwadae (note: South Korea's presidential complex; the President of South Korea) should not forget that the prospect of south Korea may be rosy when the DPRK's nukes are considered as a property common to the nation but South Korea is bound to go to ruin when it remains under the U.S. nuclear umbrella."


"The army and people of the DPRK together with the world peace-loving people who sympathize with justice and value conscience will closely follow the future behavior of the U.S. and its followers."


Comment: This statement is intended to clarify. As such it is the only statement that contains terms for dialogue and they are extreme. North Korean leaders know they would not be accepted. That suggests either that they genuinely do not want talks at this time or that they have made a statement of their most extreme positions as an opening round and invitation for a reply. That is the significance of the statement that they will closely follow future US behavior. It looks like an oblique invitation for a back channel overture.


In summary, the three terms are: apologize and end the UN sanctions; stop military training involving nuclear strike assets and promise not to do it again; and withdraw US nuclear strike means.


Some of the terms place no new demands on the US. The training will stop and US forces will withdrawal at the end of the month. The US has conveyed assurances on multiple occasions that it has no intention of attacking North Korea.


The others are thornier. For example, the withdrawal of US nuclear means is linked to global denuclearization, not North Korean denuclearization. Chances for an end to UN sanctions without North Korean nuclear concessions are vanishingly small.


Omissions. It is interesting that the terms contain no mention of a permanent peace treaty, or restoration of the armistice, or permanent withdrawal of US forces and formal recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power and armed state. These were all stipulated in the early statements in March.


The involvement of the policy department seems to indicate that the leadership judged the two earlier statements below were not sufficiently clear. The policy department is not a protocol equivalent of the US Department of State. The form of the reply is an affront and the English is clumsier than in the other statements.



The highlighted sentence is the first time North Korea has ever suggested that its nuclear weapons are the common property of all Koreans. It implies that South Korea could be covered under the North Korean nuclear umbrella if it abandoned the US nuclear umbrella.


Party Statement.

On the 17th, KCNA published an unattributed Party statement on dialogue in the Party daily, Rodong Sinmun.


"The U.S. recently deployed two super-large nuclear-powered carriers to the waters near the Korean Peninsula in secrecy. "


"Timed to coincide with this, it rapidly dispatched there a nuclear submarine and more than 2 000 seamen of the U.S. Marines. "


"The U.S. is getting frantic in its war maneuvers to invade the north by introducing the largest-ever nuclear war hardware into South Korea and its vicinity. The ulterior aim sought by it is to provoke a nuclear war against the DPRK. "


"Rodong Sinmun Wednesday says in a bylined commentary in this regard: The U.S. and its satellite forces have become all the more provocative in their acts, while branding the measures taken by the DPRK for its self-defense as 'pressure' and 'provocation'. "


"A nuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula due to the reckless saber-rattling of the U.S., bringing the dark clouds of a nuclear war. The DPRK is by no means afraid of a war though it does not want it. "


"The U.S. is trying to provoke the DPRK by introducing its huge nuclear force. But it is a foolish pipedream."


"The DPRK is fully ready to honorably conclude the long-standing showdown with the U.S. by meeting the latter's military challenges. As the DPRK repeatedly stated to the world, it makes no empty words."


"The U.S. had better behave itself, bearing this in mind."


Comment: The Party article on the 17th is the first and only to mention North Korea's readiness to conclude the long-standing showdown under any circumstances.


Foreign Ministry - government - statement.

On 16 April, the Korean Central News Agency published a statement by a foreign ministry spokesman. The title is "DPRK FM Sokesman Dismisses US Talks about Dialogue as Rhetoric Misleading World Opinion." .



The statement is 16 paragraphs long. The statement about dialogue is in paragraph 12. The new items are the mention of the deployment of "two nuclear-powered carrier strike groups" and "strategic nuclear submarines" into the waters off the Korean Peninsula. Excerpts follow. NightWatch added the highlights.


Paragraph one.

"A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry issued the following statement on Tuesday:


"Recently U.S. high-ranking officials are vying with each other to talk about dialogue. This is nothing but a crafty ploy to evade the blame for the tension on the eve of a war by pretending to refrain from military actions and stand for dialogue…"


In paragraph five, for the first time the North Koreans accuse the US of deliberately creating tension in order to support the Asia-Pacific pivot.

"…The U.S. benefited from drastically increasing its military deployment pursuant to its Asia-Pacific-pivot strategy by massively introducing all latest weaponry while inciting military confrontation with the DPRK."


Comment: This is a variation of a central theme in the Chinese defense white paper, namely, that the US has exploited the Korean confrontation to expand its forces in Asia. The next paragraphs describe the US force buildup, stressing that the forces are "strategic nuclear strike means."


Paragraph six introduces the theme of the nuclear threat to North Korea.

"…The U.S., which regards the DPRK as the primary target of its attack in the Asia-Pacific region, not only deployed all its operational nuclear strike means but also posed the threat of the largest-ever physical nuclear strike to the DPRK in recent months…."


Paragraph eleven accused the US using the offer of dialogue to persuade North Korea to disregard the new Party line (nuclear weapons and economic improvement and the new nuclear industry law of the country.


Paragraph twelve delivers a reply to the offer of talks.

"The DPRK is not opposed to dialogue but has no idea of sitting at the humiliating negotiating table with the party brandishing a nuclear stick. Dialogue should be based on the principle of respecting sovereignty and equality--this is the DPRK's consistent stand."



"Genuine dialogue is possible only at the phase where the DPRK has acquired nuclear deterrent enough to defuse the U.S. threat of nuclear war unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy and nuclear threat and blackmail against the former."


The final paragraphs indicate the confrontation is not over.


"This time when the DPRK has been exposed to the U.S. direct and substantial threat of nuclear attack, it keenly felt the need to bolster up its nuclear deterrence both in quality and quantity..."


"The nuclear strike drills staged by the U.S. against the DPRK leave the latter with no option but to conduct drills to cope with them."


"There is no guarantee that these drills will not go over to a real war and the U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the ensuing consequences. The DPRK will escalate its military countermeasures for self-defense unless the U.S. ceases its nuclear war drills and withdraws all its war hardware for aggression."


Comment: This statement is devoted to explaining why the US must accept North Korea as a nuclear armed state. It seems to have stirred things in Pyongyang because it is inadequate as a reply to an offer of talks. It states a single condition for dialogue - the end of training and the withdrawal of US nuclear assets. It omits any mention of UN sanctions, apologies or changes South Korea should make and all the other goals the North has mentioned in earlier statements..


Of greater interest is that this statement announces that the North Koreans are using the confrontation to build more and better nuclear weapons. Allied intelligence agencies need to confirm this.

General comments: Taken together, all three power centers in Pyongyang have issued statements that seem to build on each other. None are attributed to the protocol equivalent of the Secretary of State, but the seem to show an evolution in North Korea's deliberations about the US offer of talks. 


On the 16th the Foreign Ministry said North Korea is open to dialogue, but not under the US nuclear threat.


On the 17th the Party wrote that North Korea does not want war and is fully ready to honorably conclude the long-standing showdown.



On the18th the army stipulated terms for opening a dialogue.


Together they mark several firsts. They represent the first time the North Korean leadership has said it is open to dialogue; the first time it has shown interest in ending the confrontation; and the first time it has stated any terms. It does not seem ready to engage in a dialogue, but it might be ready to talk about holding talks.


The three statements have shifted the confrontation from one in which the North Koreans are ready to retaliate to one in which they accuse the US of looking for a reason execute a nuclear attack. The significance of this is that it provides the North a justification for declaring victory in the showdown if no attack occurs. Nevertheless, the perspective is more defensive than before the Day of the Sun holiday.


A possible Chinese role? The focus on a buildup of US nuclear strike capabilities in reaction to the confrontation plus the shift in perspective might be the result of intervention by China. The evidence is thin, based on language that echoes the new Chinese defense white paper, but the changes in tone, perspective and language are clear and sudden.


Somebody might have told the North Koreans that they went too far when their antics resulted in deployments to Northeast Asia by US strategic nuclear strike assets. Perhaps they reached that conclusion on their own which would imply they got concerned, especially by the realization that nuclear forces from each leg of the US nuclear triad were targeted against North Korea.


The confrontation is not over, but the first North Korean official delegation to depart this month left for Iran yesterday to hold discussions about oil and energy. The North is not going to war and appears to be looking for an exit.


Statement to South Korea.

KCNA carried an item, "DPRK's Principled Stand on Inter-Korean Dialogue Remains Unchanged: CPRK Spokesman"


"There will be neither dialogue nor improved relations between the north and the south as long as South Korea persists in such hostile acts as enforcing sanctions against the DPRK, taking part in the acts to stifle it, deliberately accusing it of its space development and bolstering of its nuclear force and staging war exercises after massively introducing sophisticated war hardware into South Korea, declared a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) in a statement issued on Thursday."



Comment: The entire statement runs 16 short paragraphs but they are parallel in content to materials directed at the US, but with more insults to South Korea.


Jordan-US: The US is sending approximately 200 troops from the Army's 1st Armored Division to Jordan to help contain violence along the Syrian border and plan for any operations needed to ensure the safety of chemical weapons in Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on 17 April.


Comment: As reported, US soldiers might end up firing at Syrian government forces.


End of NightWatch



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