Sung Kim tells North Korea door is open for talks

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg): President Joe Biden’s envoy for North Korea said the door remains open for talks, after Pyongyang claimed it tested new long-range cruise missiles that bolster its nuclear strike capabilities against Japan and South Korea.

“We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions,” Sung Kim, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, said in Tokyo on Tuesday ahead of discussions with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea. Kim was referring to North Korea by its formal name.

Kim also reiterated the long-stated U.S. position that Washington has no hostile intentions toward Pyongyang.

About a day before Biden’s envoy arrived in Tokyo, North Korea said it tested new cruise missiles that flew in “pattern-8 flight orbits” for more than two hours on Saturday and Sunday, covering some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) over land and waters off North Korea before hitting targets.

The tests, if confirmed, would be North Korea’s first reported missile launches since firing off two short-range ballistic missiles in March. The new cruise missiles were designed to fly below the radar and evade defense systems, which fits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s goal of deterring a U.S.-led attack.

North Korea is barred from launching ballistic missiles under United Nations resolutions, but its cruise missiles don’t face the same restrictions.

Even though Biden has indicated the U.S. could offer incentives that would help North Korea’s struggling economy in return for disarmament steps, Pyongyang has shown no interest in coming back to the talks that have been stalled for about two years.

Pyongyang has touted efforts to build up its tactical strike capability, with leader Kim telling a top ruling party meeting before Biden came to office in January that he was putting North Korea on a path to develop more advanced nuclear technologies and missiles. The plan included making smaller and lighter nuclear weapons, and suggested a sweeping modernization of the country’s nuclear and conventional forces.

The talks in Tokyo with the three envoys come as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was due to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday on a two-day trip that includes discussions with South Korean officials on issues such as the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.  

China is North Korea’s biggest benefactor, for years providing a lifeline that helped keep its neighbor’s struggling economy afloat. The Biden administration has told Beijing that it’s in its own self-interest to get Pyongyang back to the bargaining table.