US official’s suggestion of ‘arms-control’ talks with North Korea raises eyebrows

The United States said on Friday that its policy on North Korea had not changed after a senior US official responsible for nuclear policy raised some eyebrows by saying Washington was willing to engage in arms control talks with Pyongyang.

Some experts argue that recognition of North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, something Pyongyang seeks, is a prerequisite for such talks. But Washington has long argued that North Korea’s nuclear program is illegal and subject to UN sanctions.

State Department Arms Control Secretary Bonnie Jenkins was asked at a Washington nuclear conference on Thursday when North Korea should be considered an arms control problem.

“If they’re having a conversation with us … arms control is always an option if you have two countries willing to sit down at the table and talk,” she replied.

“And not just arms control, but risk reduction — everything that leads up to a traditional arms control agreement and the different aspects of arms control that we can have with them. We have made it very clear to the DPRK … we are ready to talk to them – we have no preconditions,” she said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

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Referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, she added: “If he picks up the phone and says, ‘I want to talk about arms control,’ we’re not going to say no. I think we’ll need to figure out what, if anything, it means.

The United States and its allies worry that North Korea is preparing to resume nuclear bomb tests for the first time since 2017, which will deeply unplease the Biden administration ahead of midterm elections early next month. North Korea has rejected America’s request to come back for talks.

Asked about Jenkins’ statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “I want to be very clear about this. There has been no change in US policy.

Price said U.S. policy remains “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” adding, “We continue to be open to diplomacy with the DPRK, we continue to reach out to the DPRK, and we are committed to pursuing a diplomatic approach.” We are ready to meet without preconditions and we urge the DPRK to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy.

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Speaking Friday at the same nuclear policy conference Jenkins addressed, Alexandra Bell, another senior State Department arms control official, also insisted there was no change in US policy.

Asked if it was time to recognize North Korea as a nuclear state, she replied: “Words aside, we are committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We do not accept that situation in North Korea. But we are interested in having a dialogue with the North Koreans.”

Daniel Russell, then the top US diplomat in East Asia under President Barack Obama, said Jenkins had “fallen right into Kim Jong Un’s trap” with her comments.

“It would be a dangerous mistake to suggest that North Korea should agree only to agree to a dialogue with the United States on arms control and risk reduction, as it moves the question to the question of how much of the right to possess nuclear weapons North Korea should have.” How to use them,” he said.

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“Kim would like nothing better than to push his de-risking agenda — withdrawing U.S. forces from Korea.”

Other experts disputed Jenkins’ claims.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the US-based Arms Control Association, said it would not make a declaration recognizing North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state under the International Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Like other officials in other administrations, she admits that North Korea has nuclear weapons, but is breaking its promises not to pursue nuclear weapons under the NPT,” he told Reuters.

Kimble and Toby Dalton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who hosted the nuclear summit, said formal recognition as a nuclear-armed state was not considered a prerequisite for arms control talks. Dalton said Jenkins was reiterating the US position that it is willing to talk to Pyongyang without preconditions.

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