In a statement released over the weekend, Kim Kye Gwan, a senior North Korean official, rejected a return to working-level talks between the United States and North Korea. Kim’s statement followed a request reportedly by U.S. President Donald J. Trump to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to convey birthday regards to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim’s birthday was on January 8. The day is not celebrated as a national holiday in the country, unlike the birthdays of Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the national founder. Kim Kye Gwan, in his statement, criticized South Korea, saying that the U.S. and North Korea had separate communication channels that Trump might have used to convey birthday greetings.
Addressing the prospect of negotiations with the United States, Kim added that the personal relationship between Kim and Trump was no longer sufficient for a return by Pyongyang to the diplomatic table. Kim Kye Gwan is a senior North Korean official who previously served as a chief negotiator for Pyongyang in international talks.
“We have been deceived by the U.S., being caught in the dialogue with it for over one year and a half,” Kim said. “And that was the lost time for us.” He indicated that the relationship between the two leaders was a “personal” matter, decoupling the broader U.S.-North Korea relationship from the personal rapport between the two men.
Trump and Kim have met three times: first in Singapore, in June 2018; in Hanoi, in February 2019; and a final time at the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone in June 2019, their last meeting.
In his statement, Kim implied that a return to talk would be facilitated by U.S. movement on changing the existing policy on sanctions relief. Kim also said that North Korea would likely not offer any significant concessions if diplomacy were to resume.
“There will never be such negotiations as that in Vietnam, in which we proposed exchanging a core nuclear facility of the country for the lift of some UN sanctions in a bid to lessen the sufferings of the peaceable people even a bit,” Kim said.
In Hanoi, North Korea asked for a capacious package of sanctions relief from most major United Nations Security Council resolution economic sanctions imposed between 2016 and 2017 in exchange for a shutdown of uranium and plutonium production facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
In December 2019, Kim Yong Chol, formerly North Korea’s chief negotiator in nuclear talks with the United States in 2018, warned that Kim Jong Un could change his “perception of Trump” in the future again.
The personal relationship between the two leaders has been referenced frequently in North Korean statements in 2018 and 2019. In Kim’s December 2019 statement, he also warned that “The time may come when we must call him ‘a dotard in his dotage’ again.”
The term “dotard” was used by North Korea in September 2017 to describe Trump, shortly after the U.S. president threatened to “totally destroy” the country at the United Nations General Assembly.
After Kim Kye Gwan’s statement, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien gave an interview in which he suggested the White House remained determined to return to the negotiating table with North Korea.