A special Chinese envoy to North Korea departed for Pyongyang on Friday amid speculation that the North’s protracted halt in missile tests might be a signal that it’s warming to the idea of direct talks with the US.
Yonhap noted in a story on Friday that Joseph Yun, the top US nuclear envoy, indicated earlier this week that if North Korea halts nuclear and missile testing for about 60 days, that it might be the signal that Washington needs to resume direct dialogue with Pyongyang.
It’s been about nine weeks since Pyongyang conducted its last missile test — a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile test near Japan on September 15.
Analysts believe that the issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs will be discussed when China’s envoy, Song Tao, meets with top North Korean officials. Song, the head of the international department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party, may also meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
US nuke envoy Yun was quoted as saying on Tuesday that he doesn’t know the reason behind the North’s recent halt in missile testing. But he called on the North to stay that course “for a period of time,” according to Yonhap.
Yun was in South Korea to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon when he made the comments.
The US envoy added at the time that he hoped Song’s trip to Pyongyang would help “forward” the goal of its denuclearization.
South Korea’s Lee also added that it could have “a very significant meaning considering the current situation.”
US Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly said on Thursday that a current lull in Pyongyang’s nuke and missile tests could be construed as an “opportunity” for peace talks with the US, according to a story on news website military.com.
“So long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don’t export their weapons — there would be opportunity for talks,” Mattis was quoted as saying.
Mattis reportedly made the remarks to reporters as he was flying to Colorado to meet with officials of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command, on homeland and anti-missile defense.
But Military.com says Mattis declined to speculate on why North Korea hasn’t conducted nuclear or missile tests for the past two months. When asked if he had an opinion, he said, “Let me know when you figure it out.”
China’s Song is officially traveling to North Korea to update officials there on the outcome of China’s recent party congress. But he’s also expected to discuss issues of mutual interest to the two countries. His journey to Pyongyang follows a state visit to China last week by Donald Trump in which the US president called on China to do more to rein in North Korea’s nuke ambitions.
Other analysts believe the lull in North Korean testing is part of preparations to make another significant long-range missile launch to show that it can hit all of the continental United States.
Pyongyang officially continues hard stance
North Korea’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmum, continued the country’s hard stance on negotiations with the US on Friday. It said in a commentary that Pyongyang will not put issues directly linked to its core interests and its people’s security on the negotiation table.
“The United States should abandon its hostile policy toward North Korea. If Washington does not give it up, we will not budge by an inch from the path to strengthening our nuclear force,” the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea said.