Closing Arguments: North Korea Sends Warning, Georgia Falls Short

Copyright © 2021 Energy Intelligence Group

North Korea: Cry for Relevance US and South Korean forces began joint military training exercises this week, an annual event, along with North Korea’s condemnation of them. This year, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, called the exercises a “war rehearsal,” warning they would heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North-South relations had begun to experience a period of thawing, and a communications hotline between the two capitals was restored in late July after it was cut off by Pyongyang in June 2020. For the administration of US President Joe Biden, the contentious exercises mark its first foray into the difficult politics of the Korean Peninsula, and could shed light on how Biden intends to approach the problem of North Korea. The Biden administration inherited a North Korea policy in a state of free fall, with former President Donald Trump favoring off-the-cuff summits that produced statements of intent on denuclearization but little more. The failure of the Trump administration to capitalize on the three summit meetings with Kim created a policy vacuum that the Biden administration has not rushed to fill. By contrast, independent of the US, the government of South Korea has pressed on with efforts to stabilize and normalize relations with North Korea. Relations have thawed to the point that some in South Korea are calling for a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The Biden administration’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, has indicated that the US would meet with North Korean negotiators "anywhere, anytime without preconditions.” But the decision by the US to go forward with the joint military exercises with South Korea have all but quashed the chances of a meeting anytime soon. The reality, too, is that the Biden administration for now has other priorities, from the bigger foreign policy problem of worsening relations with China, whose help the US would need in any diplomatic outreach to North Korea, to domestic policy, such as passing an infrastructure bill. For the moment, the US seems to prefer to leave North Korea in a sort of diplomatic purgatory. This approach, however, may not be acceptable to Pyongyang. Kim had invested a tremendous amount of political capital on the promise of a better economic future linked to the lifting of US economic sanctions under a denuclearization agreement. Faced with the US not prioritizing the resumption of denuclearization talks, North Korea may find itself in a position where it will be compelled to create a crisis for the sole purpose of pushing the US off the negotiating fence. Georgia: Not Nato Material

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