N Korea Develops Its Weapons Program, 'While We're Not Talking' - Expert

© REUTERS / KyodoNorth Koreans watch a news report showing North Korea's Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile launch on electronic screen at Pyongyang station in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 30, 2017
North Koreans watch a news report showing North Korea's Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile launch on electronic screen at Pyongyang station in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 30, 2017 - Sputnik International
North Korea said it is willing to discuss giving up its nuclear weapons. According to officials from South Korea, Kim Jong-un has also expressed his willingness to halt nuclear and missile tests. Seoul’s national security chief Chung Eui-yong said that North Korea is willing to engage “in an open-ended dialogue” to discuss de-nuclearization.

Sputnik talked about the statements made by the North Korean leader with Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Sputnik: Would it be fair to speak of a breakthrough in negotiations between the North and the South now and do the latest statements from both sides sound optimistic to you?

Jenny Town: They do sound optimistic, I think we're all watching cautiously and really trying to understand what exactly was said, I do hope there's been consultations between Washington and Seoul to help clarify, because as you know the devil is always in the details, but I think this was a good start and it's clearly a great opening, and North Korea has given the right signs, especially given what Trump administration has said it wants to see from North Korea in order to restart a dialogue, so I think we're at a point now where we're really kind of testing the Trump administration to see what their intentions really are.

Sputnik: How serious is Kim Jong-un when he's saying he's willing to engage in de-nuclearization, especially with talks with the Unites States? What factors can really pave the way for a start of negotiations between North Korea and the US?

Jenny Town: I think the question in the past has always been, is this what Kim Jong-un is thinking, so whenever proposals have come through the foreign ministry or track two meetings, we've heard very similar formulas in a sense that they're willing to talk about nuclear issues and de-nuclearization as long as its also addressing the US hostile policy, and now that it has come from Kim Jong-un people need to take it seriously, this is again the sign and the resolve that's always been in question, so I don't think we should assume we know everything, and certainly since it has come from Kim Jong-un it does have more gravity in terms of intention and if we don't at least explore this I think it's really going to really call into question what US is really trying to do with this pressure policy.

Sputnik: As a negative slant as soon as Pyongyang demonstrated its willingness to talks, South Korea's media published a report on alleged nuclear research in North Korea, while the Unites States suddenly imposed new sanctions on the North in connection to the death of the half-brother of the North Korean leader, how could you explain the timing of these actions? Why are the sides involved still instigating new tensions which could possibly undermine the peace process when the door is being half opened now?

Jenny Town: It's certainly not helpful to the diplomatic process, realistically you hear a lot of people talk about we've been here before, you hear a lot of people say that negotiations are just necessary to buy more time for North Korea to develop its weapons program. Realistically North Korea is developing its weapons program, especially when we're not talking, there's certainly things that would be possible to negotiate in terms of freezing programs and capping programs and along the way can we move toward reversing the programs, isn't not going to happen outside of a negotiation process, and the longer it's going to take us to get there, the more North Korea's nuclear weapons programs will continue to be developing, and all of these signs in terms of imposing more sanctions, trying to remind the world how evil North Korea is in this process, is not going to help the diplomacy and at some point again we really need to figure out if diplomacy is the way that we want to go, how do we create the right environment to be able to sustain those talks, at least to see what's possible rather than assuming all the answers.

Sputnik: What's your expectation now coming from the meeting between the two Korean leaders in the demilitarized zone next month? What are you hoping for?

Jenny Town: I would expect that they will talk about how to mitigate military tensions especially in the DMZ, I think we're beyond the point of being able to make any modifications or further delays on military exercises this time around, I'm sure they'll address to what happens in the next round of military exercises and what could be done to reduce the tensions. And the inter-Korean agenda itself at some point, you know the issue of family reunions will come up, the issue of economic cooperation will come up and further military to military confidence building measures. How far they can get without US support is really questionable and how far South Korea is willing to go forward if it doesn't have US support will be interesting to watch, because I do think there are cleavages now in what South Korea wants, and what's in South Korea's national interests, this is how the US has been framing this issue.

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