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US ups N.Korea pressure but fears no end to headache

US ups N.Korea pressure but fears no end to headache

As North Korea fires a missile blitz, the US sticks to a mix of pressure and offers of dialogue, but US policymakers are resigned that little is likely to change Cape Pyongyang.

Eager to avert another global crisis alongside Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s administration has focused on a narrower goal of reassuring allies that the United States will defend them.

North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un met three times with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, but failed to reach a lasting agreement, has fired a record number of missiles in recent days, and the Western officials say Pyongyang has made preparations for a seventh nuclear weapons test.

“I don’t think we can do anything to stop North Korea,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst on Korean affairs who is now director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International. Scholars.

“If I was Kim Jong Un’s adviser, I would say, yes, go ahead,” she said.

“They couldn’t make any deal with Trump and what are they going to get from the Biden administration? They know that. The only thing they can do is take their agenda to the next level. “

The United States has responded to North Korea by extending exercises with South Korea, including deploying a strategic bomber, and Biden will likely offer strong support to South Korean and Japanese leaders at summits this month. in Southeast Asia.

Biden is also expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pyongyang’s main ally, who joined Russia in May to veto a US-led bid in the Security Council to tighten sanctions on North Korea.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in an emergency session on Friday that China and Russia had “allowed” North Korea, but also reiterated the will of the Biden administration to talk to the totalitarian state.

US officials say North Korea has shown no interest in the talks and, privately, some believe the Kim regime may be in one of its periodic cycles of escalation and that there is no has no choice but to wait.

Under Barack Obama’s last Democratic administration, some have concluded that the United States mistimed a deal in February 2012 that quickly fell apart when North Korea was already on the verge of proceeding. a satellite test.

– High risk, low reward –

For Biden, focused on Ukraine and possibly facing a more hostile Congress after the midterm elections, diplomacy with North Korea presents high risks and limited chances of success.

“They don’t really want to engage with North Korea. There’s a lot of fatigue in North Korea,” said Frank Aum, a former Pentagon adviser on Korean affairs who now works at the American Institute for Peace.

But Aum said diplomacy, while the chances of a breakthrough are limited, has at least managed to ease tensions.

He said Biden could offer concrete gestures and inducements, such as declaring a moratorium on the deployment of new strategic military assets or offering sanctions relief.

β€œAny appeasement tactic would be viewed domestically in the United States as appeasement or reward for bad behavior,” Aum said.

“But the empirical evidence clearly demonstrates that North Korea does not respond well to pressure and, conversely, when we engage with North Korea, they tend to behave better.”

He doubted the effectiveness of Biden’s strategy of leaning on China for pressure, noting that Beijing “completely disagrees with this approach.”

– Is it time to rethink? –

Rising tensions have led, at least among experts, to a once-taboo discussion about whether to accept North Korea as a nuclear state.

Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis, in an opinion piece published last month in the New York Times that sparked wide debate, said the United States had already essentially accepted that North Korea would not would ever get rid of its nuclear arsenal and should focus on the risk reduction discussion.

“It is time to cut our losses, face reality and take steps to reduce the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula,” he wrote.

The State Department has reiterated that its goal for North Korea is ‘complete denuclearization’ and some experts have said a change would send a worrying signal at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening to attack Ukraine .

“It buys you nothing and scares your allies,” said Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Cha, who advised former President George W. Bush, said the Biden team must define a North Korean policy that goes beyond the talking points.

“Maybe it would come after the seventh nuclear test,” he said.