Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, warned the Biden administration against “causing a stink at its first step” on Monday, hours after the White House said it had not received a response to its outreach to Pyongyang.
“We take this opportunity to warn the new US administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” she said in a statement, according to the country’s state news agency.
“If it wants to sleep in peace for (the) coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” she said.
The warning comes as the US and South Korea conduct scaled-down, simulated military exercises and US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have touched down in the region for meetings with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the administration had reached out to North Korea, noting they have “a number of channels, as we always have had, that we can reach out through.”
‘Diplomacy the goal’
“Diplomacy is always our goal. Our goal is to reduce the risk of escalation. But, to date, we have not received any response,” Psaki said.
She noted that the outreach “follows over a year without active dialogue with North Korea, despite multiple attempts by the US to engage.”
However, experts told CNN prior to Kim Yo Jong’s message that Pyongyang was likely to rebuff diplomatic efforts for the time-being for a number of reasons.
Those reasons include the coronavirus pandemic, the Biden team’s ongoing North Korea policy review, the meetings in the region and the administration’s rhetoric.
‘If it wants to sleep in peace for (the) coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.’
The Biden administration is still conducting a review of the Trump administration’s
North Korea policy, which could be announced “in the coming weeks,” according to a senior State Department official.
While President Joe Biden isn’t likely to write “love letters” to Kim Jong Un like his predecessor did, Biden’s administration has yet to offer a clear break from the prior administration in its stated goals for its approach to the Hermit Kingdom.
On multiple occasions, in testimony, statements or briefings, US officials have said their goal is “the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”
“That’s just a non-starter for the North Koreans,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
‘Denuclearization a non-starter’
“Denuclearization is a non-starter,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Every time we use that phrase it’s a five-yard penalty because the North Koreans never agreed to it.”
North Koreans see several reasons why they should not denuclearize based on recent history, including situations in Iraq, Libya and more recently Iran.
Leaders in Iraq and Libya were toppled after relinquishing their nuclear programs under US pressure, while Iran entered a deal with the US only to have the Trump administration withdraw, impose crippling economic sanctions and then assassinate the country’s leading general and nuclear scientist.
‘Has to be nuanced’
Frank Aum, the senior expert on North Korea at the US Institute of Peace, noted that “it’s fine to hold to the long term goal of denuclearization, complete denuclearization for North Korea, but I think the way you message that is going to be very important.”
“It has to be nuanced because you can’t just say, you know, we want to have talks, and the talks are going to be about North Korea’s complete denuclearization because that sounds very one-sided,” he told CNN.
“It would have to be long term and not the Libya model of complete denuclearization upfront before we give them anything they want.”