July 4 marked the third anniversary of North Korea’s first-ever successful flight-test of an intercontinental-range ballistic missile. The date is remembered today as one of the four great “revolutions” of that year, alongside the March 18 test of the engine that eventually powered that ICBM, the second ICBM test on July 28, and a final inaugural test of a new, larger ICBM on November 28.
To mark the occasion, senior North Korean official Choe Son Hui, officially the first vice foreign minister and a veteran of several negotiations with the United States, issued a statement. Carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea‘s outward-facing state media, Choe noted that North Korea had in place a “detailed strategic timetable” to deal with the “long-term threat from the U.S.“
Choe also ruled out the idea of another U.S.-North Korea summit meeting before the upcoming U.S. presidential elections in November. “Now is a very sensitive time when even the slightest misjudgment and misstep would incur fatal and irrevocable consequences,” she added. “We can not but be shocked at the story about the summit indifferent to the present situation of the DPRK-U.S. relations.” Choe specifically ruled out the notion of an “October surprise”—a last-minute U.S.-North Korea deal before the election.
“Is it possible to hold dialogue or have any dealings with the U.S., which persists in the hostile policy toward the DPRK in disregard of the agreements already made at the past summit,” Choe asked. “It is clear to us, even without meeting, with what shallow trick the U.S. will approach us as it has neither intention nor will to go back to the drawing board.”
Her statement summed up the general North Korean stance that became apparent in the second half of 2019, but can really be traced back to the weeks after the failure of the February 2019 U.S.-North Korea summit meeting between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam.
At that summit, North Korea offered its spent fuel reprocessing and uranium enrichment facility at the Yongbyon complex in exchange for relief from a wide range of UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning its civilian economy. The U.S. side did not accept the deal and there was no final agreement then.
A similar North Korean statement on June 12, the two-year anniversary of the 2018 U.S.-North Korea Singapore Summit—the first to bring a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader together—reiterated this idea, indicating that North Korea could only come to the negotiating table after it saw evidence that the U.S. negotiating position had changed and that a more limited agreement could be possible.
Senior North Korean officials have said that they currently perceive the benefits of talks with the United States to be primarily political for U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Choe’s recent statement comes after reports that the South Korean government remains interested in foster U.S.-North Korea exchange.