The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently established a new organization specializing in strategic policy towards the United States, Daily NK has learned. The new office’s establishment could be seen as an attempt by North Korea to conduct more proactive analysis of US intentions in its preparations to negotiate with the US.
A high-level source told Daily NK on May 12 that the North Korean authorities hired approximately sixty new staff to work in the new organization, which is a part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs department focused on negotiations with the US.
The official name for the new organization remains unconfirmed. However, it appears to be an office within the department that deals with bilateral negotiations.
The main task for those working at the new office is to monitor the US media and map out strategies for response accordingly. Some employees are reporting to work at 5 PM and go home between 1 and 2 AM so that they can follow the American news cycle in real time.
Employees of the new office use the American media to analyze trends related to North Korea and keep track of movements within the White House, the State Department, the US Congress, political parties, and other significant institutions. They are also gathering and analyzing the views of opinion columnists and their readers by looking at American news websites.
However, the manager of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office that manages negotiations with the US, along with this new organization, is not First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui, but Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister.
The North Korean authorities reportedly acknowledge Choe’s extensive experience with negotiations between North Korea and the US but have not granted her the authority to devise US strategy herself. Instead, Kim appears to be the one giving practical instructions regarding the formulation of North Korea’s policy towards the US.
On the surface, it has longed looked as if Kim has only been involved in the formulation of Pyongyang’s policy towards South Korea. In reality, Kim appears to be in charge of North Korean foreign policy more broadly, including policies toward the US and South Korea. The source claims that all strategy and foreign intelligence must be directly reported to Kim.
In the meantime, North Korea’s establishment of this new office in the foreign affairs ministry could signal a shift in its policy towards Washington. North Korea’s official stance is that it will not engage in any contact or dialogue with the US unless it withdraws its hostile policy towards North Korea. However, Pyongyang’s establishment of the new office and its efforts to prepare a strategy towards the US could signal at least partial optimism about US President Joe Biden’s policy towards North Korea.
According to the source, the North Korean authorities initially predicted that the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea would not deviate much from the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach. However, the source also claims that North Korea may have taken the Biden administration’s reluctance to fall back on either the Trump administration’s “grand bargain” strategy or the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” strategy as a positive sign.
The Biden administration appears willing to respect the Singapore Joint Statement and the administration’s new North Korea policy reportedly contains language about possible next steps to the Singapore agreement.
South Korean President Moon Jae In commented on the future of US-North Korean relations during a May 10 speech marking the four-year anniversary of his ascent to office, saying: “We welcome the direction of the Biden administration’s North Korea policy that aims to achieve the primary goal of the Korean Peninsula’s complete denuclearization through diplomacy with a flexible, gradual and practical approach by building upon the foundation of the Singapore Declaration.”
However, North Korea is reportedly waiting on the US to make the first move towards negotiations.
The foreign ministry has reportedly been ordered by the Workers’ Party to make clear to the US that any attempts to threaten the country using the human rights issue – along with any statements or actions aimed at damaging the “authority” of the North Korean government – will make it impossible for North Korea to engage in bilateral negotiations.
In fact, on Apr. 2 – just after the Biden administration unveiled its new North Korea policy – North Korea released a series of statements criticizing the new president’s strategy.
However, the source suggested that North Korea published these statements with the intent of giving itself the first-move advantage in its dialogue with the US. In short, the statements served more as a warning to the US that North Korea will not tolerate the use of sanctions or the human rights issue, rather than a criticism of America’s new North Korea policy.
On the other hand, North Korea’s establishment of the new organization in the foreign ministry could also serve as an attempt to completely exclude the role of the South Korean government in bilateral negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. In short, the North Koreans could be aiming to gauge US intentions themselves.
“The authorities believe that South Korea has failed to abide by any agreement made between the leaders of the North and South,” another high-level source in North Korea told Daily NK. “Because South Korea is not a trustworthy negotiation partner, they believe that it is not entitled to play a role in any future negotiations between the US and North Korea.”
*Translated by S & J