Biden should act promptly to engage with Pyongyang

Biden should act promptly to engage with Pyongyang

This Aug. 3, 2021, satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
This Aug. 3, 2021, satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
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From the moment US President Joe Biden entered the White House, foreign crises have left his administration with barely enough time to draw breath.

While the course of US-French relations faces new obstacles and challenges after last week’s Indo-Pacific defense pact between the US, the UK and Australia, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea has returned to the fore following Pyongyang’s renewal of missile testing.

Last Wednesday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast, the second test in a week, saying that its patience with negotiations was wearing thin.

Amid doubts over Washington’s commitments to its partners in the wake of the Afghanistan debacle, the US sought to reassure its allies South Korea and Japan, as well as the international community, that it will not allow Pyongyang to infringe on neighboring countries.

“This activity highlights (North Korea’s) continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community. The US commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad,” the US Indo-Pacific Command said.

Despite all the soft and harsh warnings, Kim started his reign in 2011 by focusing solely on increasing the speed and scope of his program to build weapons of mass destruction, raising alarm in the US and the international community over what his next step would be if he realizes his forbidden dream.

This continuous threat has been a major foreign policy challenge to US governments for the past three decades. Neither US diplomatic efforts nor economic sanctions have succeeded in convincing the North Korean dictator to abandon his nuclear ambitions.

But what made Kim choose this path even as his country struggles with a dangerous pandemic, food shortages and an economic crisis? Is he looking for a chance to use his cruise and ballistic missiles to attack South Korea, or even the US?

Although Biden is preoccupied with the resurgence of COVID-19, the fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal, and the diplomatic and strategic crisis with France, he needs to reach out to North Korea before it is too late.

Dalia Al-Aqidi

It is unlikely that any leader would go to war knowing he would lose not only the battle but his rule as well. In addition, Kim understands that the US has no intention of taking military action against North Korea due to the projected high rate of casualties caused by any counterstrike against South Korea.

Simply put, the North Korean leader is trying to increase his bargaining power and pressure Biden’s administration into reopening diplomatic channels between the two countries and, eventually, lifting economic sanctions imposed on his regime.

Although Biden is preoccupied with the resurgence of COVID-19, the fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal, and the diplomatic and strategic crisis with France, he needs to reach out to North Korea before it is too late.

Reports issued by the UN Security Council suggest that North Korea has been selling its technology to regimes in the Middle East, including Iran.

In February, Bloomberg revealed that Pyongyang and Tehran had been cooperating on long-range missile development projects since last year, adding that Iran’s Shahid Hajj Ali Movahed Research Center received “support and assistance” from North Korean missile specialists for a space launch vehicle, and that it was involved in shipments to Iran.

These reports underscore the need for the US administration to consider all available statecraft tools to disarm the North Korean regime and prevent it from selling its WMD technology to rogue states or even state-sponsored terror groups.

Washington should use the 2018 Singapore declaration as a springboard for a new round of diplomatic talks with the help of its allies, particularly South Korea.

Since China sees Pyongyang as a power that could weaken the US partnership with South Korea and Japan, a strong US presence in the region combined with serious nuclear negotiations with Kim would also undermine Beijing’s influence in the Korean peninsula.

A minor reshuffle in US foreign policy priorities might save the world from a nuclear threat.

Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi

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