The End of Peace Talks? How Kim Jong Un’s Rhetoric Threatens Relations with South Korea

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the end of peace talks how kim jong un's rhetoric threatens relations with south korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called South Korea “our principal enemy” and threatened to annihilate it if provoked, as he escalates his inflammatory, belligerent rhetoric against Seoul and the United States before their elections this year. Kim’s threat comes as the White House said it has evidence that Russia has fired additional North Korean-provided ballistic missiles at Ukraine. 

The U.S., South Korea and their partners issued a statement Wednesday condemning both North Korea and Russia over the missile transfer.

The Motivation

Experts say Kim will likely further raise animosities with weapons tests to try to influence the results of South Korea’s parliamentary elections in April and the U.S. presidential election in November. 

Kim hopes to weaken the prospects of South Korean conservatives who favor a tougher stance against North Korea, and to gain leverage over the next U.S. administration, whether it is led by former President Donald Trump or his Democratic rival Joe Biden. Kim also seeks to demonstrate his resolve and strength to his domestic audience amid economic difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Implication

Kim’s rhetoric threatens to undermine the fragile peace process that began in 2018, when he met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in three times and agreed to reduce military tensions and pursue cooperation and reconciliation. 

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Kim also met with Trump three times as part of high-stakes nuclear diplomacy, but the talks collapsed in 2019 due to disagreements over sanctions relief and disarmament steps. Since then, North Korea has resumed its missile and nuclear tests, severed its communication lines with South Korea, and demolished a joint liaison office near the border.

The Response

South Korea has urged North Korea to return to dialogue and refrain from further provocations, while also vowing to defend its sovereignty and security. South Korea has also maintained close coordination with the U.S. and other allies to deter North Korea’s aggression and pressure it to denuclearize. 

The U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan, and has imposed new sanctions on North Korea and its enablers. The U.S. has also expressed its willingness to resume talks with North Korea if it shows seriousness and flexibility.

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