S. Korea’s intel chief says U.S. vaccine support to N.K. could help revive nuclear talks

General

SEOUL-- South Korea's intelligence chief said Monday Washington's possible proposal to provide COVID-19 vaccines to Pyongyang could serve as momentum to bring it back to long-stalled nuclear negotiations.

Park Jie-won, the head of the National Intelligence Service, said holding a meeting itself with North Koreans, let alone a dialogue with them, is difficult amid Pyongyang's strict border controls to stave off the coronavirus but the North cannot indefinitely keep its border closed.

"I believe that if the U.S. rather more audaciously proposes providing its vaccines, momentum could be created to bring North Korea back to talks," he said during a forum in Seoul.

North Korea has imposed a strict border lockdown since last year and claims to be coronavirus-free.

The COVAX Facility, a global vaccine distribution platform, has assigned around 6.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to the North, but Pyongyang remains unresponsive to the proposed vaccine assistance.

South Korea and the U.S. are coordinating humanitarian assistance to North Korea, but the reclusive country has also shunned the overtures for talks, demanding Washington first retract what it calls "double standards" and "hostile policy" against its regime.

Park said the North could be discontented about not getting any return for maintaining its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests for the past four years.

"The U.S. expressing interest in some way on lifting sanctions related to the livelihoods of (North Korean) people -- such as refined oil imports, coal and mineral exports and daily necessities imports -- could be a clue to resume talks for the peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Park again urged Pyongyang to respond to calls for dialogue on issues of mutual interest, including Seoul's push to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, and said the "hostile policy" and "double standards" could be among the agenda items.

Seoul says such a declaration, if issued, will help restart the denuclearization negotiations that have stalled since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in 2019.

But Andrew Kim, a former head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's Korea Mission Center, said it's still unclear if Pyongyang would accede to the proposal.

"Do they really want this in this particular time? I don't think we have an answer. I don't think the North has made it clear whether it's something welcomed," Kim said at the forum.

In September, Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, called the declaration an "interesting" and "admirable" idea but said Seoul should first abandon its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.

Washington was also "a little skeptical" about the declaration, Kim said, as the Biden administration was not aware of how close the three countries were to reaching such an agreement under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

On Monday, President Moon Jae-in said the U.S., China and North Korea consent "in principle" to the declaration and vowed efforts for an early resumption of dialogue.

Source: Yonhap News Agency