Flexibility Can Bring Pyongyang Back to Negotiations

The United States has “high expectations for working with the Yoon administration on issues related to the Korean Peninsula,” the United States’ top envoy for North Korea stated while in Seoul last week. But those expectations may be misplaced, given that Washington appears unwilling to prioritize stabilization through a more flexible diplomatic strategy. 

To be sure, Seoul is taking a similar line. South Korea’s incoming conservative president Yoon Suk-yeol has promised to be tough on North Korea. Pledging to “teach [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] some manners,” the Yoon administration brings with it hopes of a more pliant North, in contrast with South Korea’s outgoing Moon Jae-in administration, which was more focused on dialogue and engagement.

For its part, the Biden administration has essentially replicated the policy of previous U.S. administrations toward the Korean Peninsula, continuing a “pressure and more pressure” approach: articulating a willingness to talk without any actual policies or practical measures designed to produce positive movement in U.S.-North Korean relations. 

Given the absence of any flexibility on the U.S. and South Korean sides, it is unsurprising that North Korea has not responded to offers to meet. Although it was former U.S. President —not Kim—who abandoned diplomacy, the weight of the Washington establishment has since reverted to its familiar tools of sanctions, pressure, and maximal demands. 

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.