US will not accept ‘incremental’ disarmament, insists envoy to North Korea
Stephen Biegun, the United States envoy to Pyongyang has stressed that Washington will not settle for the incremental disarmament of North Korea and that it is aiming for complete denuclearisation by the end of US President Donald Trump’s first term in 2021.
“We are not going to do denuclearisation incrementally,” Mr Biegun told a conference in Washington hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his first comments since the failed summit between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, last month.
Mr Biegun insisted that sanctions would not be lifted unless Pyongyang completely eliminated its nuclear weapons, stressing that it was Washington’s goal to achieve this within the current administration.
"We stand by the expectation that if we fully mobilise our resources … we could align ourselves in a manner sufficient to achieve this in something approaching a year," he said.
His statements marked a reversal from previous pronouncements emerging from the White House, with analysts warning that the hardening of the US position is an unrealistic strategy that will end in further stalemate with Pyongyang.
Ahead of the Hanoi meeting, Mr Trump had declared that he had “no pressing schedule” on denuclearisation. “As long as there is no [missile] testing, I’m in no rush,” he said.
Mr Biegun, meanwhile, had indicated in an speech at Stanford University at the end of January that the US was willing to take a more stage by stage approach to the issue – a policy favoured by Pyongyang.
“We have communicated to our North Korean counterparts that we are prepared to pursue – simultaneously and in parallel – all of the commitments our two leaders made in their joint statement at Singapore last summer,” he said, referring to the two leaders’ first meeting in the city-state last June.
Their second summit in Hanoi in late February ended abruptly without any kind of deal.
Mr Trump said that Kim had insisted all economic sanctions were lifted before he agreed to give up his entire nuclear arsenal – a position he could not accept. “Sometimes you just have to walk,” he said.
However, Ri Yong Ho, the North Korean foreign minister, countered that Pyongyang had only requested “partial relief” on sanctions enacted between 2016 and 2017, and had offered a “realistic proposal” to dismantle uranium enrichment facilities in return.
The talks ended on friendly terms, but North Korea has since shown frustration at the collapse of the summit, with the state-run Rodong Sinmun commenting that the public “are feeling regretful, blaming the US for the summit that ended without an agreement.”
In a more alarming development, experts at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said last week that satellite images suggested that Pyongyang could be preparing to launch a missile or space rocket.
In response to questions about what the signs of activity at rocket launch facilities meant, Mr Biegun replied: “The short answer is: we don’t know.”
He added that “the door remains open” for further negotiations. “Nothing can be agreed until everything’s agreed,” he said.
Nuclear and North Korea analysts expressed scepticism about his statements.
“Biegun: “Nothing can be agreed until everything can be agreed.” – a losing strategy,” tweeted Jenny Town, a Korea specialist at the Stimson Centre, a Washington think tank.
Others commented that the insistence on full denuclearisation before the lifting of any sanctions would create a bottleneck with Pyongyang, which has consistently argued for reciprocal concessions.
“If we don’t move off this position, we have nowhere to go,” Vipin Narang, a MIT nuclear expert, told Vox. “There’s no zone of agreement if we insist on everything — I mean everything, complete surrender — up front.”