ANALYSIS - N. Korea Fears Being Used In US Political Game Yet Chances For Dialogue Resumption Remain

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ANALYSIS - N. Korea Fears Being Used in US Political Game Yet Chances for Dialogue Resumption Remain

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 21st April, 2020) North Korea's strong denial of having sent a personal letter to US President Donald Trump manifests the country's strong unwillingness to getting dragged in the US domestic politics, but there are still prospects for the resumption of bilateral dialogue after the US presidential election in November, experts told Sputnik.

After North Korea has ramped up its weapons testis in the past weeks, Trump told reporters on Saturday that Washington was "doing fine" with Pyongyang, adding that he had recently received a "nice" letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang, however, denied sending any letter to Trump recently. In a statement, North Korea's foreign ministry suggested that Trump might have been referring to the letters "exchanged in the past," while warning Washington against using the relations between the two leaders for "selfish purposes."

NORTH KOREA OPPOSED TO US POLITICAL GAMES

The reaction of the North Korean foreign ministry shows that the country does not want to become a part of the political game as the presidential race unfolds in the US, Dr. Sangsoo Lee, a senior research fellow of the Institute for Security and Development Policy and head of the Stockholm Korea Center, told Sputnik.

"Pyongyang doesn't want to be party of Trump's political game. This also indicated that Pyongyang is still not interested in returning to the negotiation table yet," Lee said.

While not ruling out that contradicting remarks made by North Korea and Trump could be simply caused by misunderstanding on the latter's part, Robert Winstanley-Chesters, a North Korea expert and lecturer at the University of Leeds and Birkbeck, University of London, similarly asserted that Pyongyang's response indicated its strong opposition to the US administration using a letter, possibly a formal rather than personal reply to Trump's own letter offering the North assistance in fighting the coronavirus threat, for its own domestic agenda.

"But it could also be that [Trump] is concerned again with his legacy relating to North Korean matters and has been seeking to promote the positive side of the relationship he could also, as is very often the case seeking to distract from problems at home, to act in a statesmanlike manner to offset his rather petulant and aggressive appearances at press conferences relating to COVID-19," Winstanley-Chesters added, in his comments to Sputnik.

Trump has mentioned the letter not only in his remarks to the press, but also in a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according an official from the Moon administration.

According to Winstanley-Chesters, Trump might also be trying to reiterate his importance in the Korean peace process to Moon, who has gained more political weight after his party won last week's parliamentary election by a landslide and might pursue a North Korea policy independent from the US.

PYONGYANG HINTS DAMAGE CAN BE REMEDIED

Yet, the time and the wording of Pyongyang's response to the US president's claims about the letter suggests that any damage possibly done by Trump's remarks could be remedied, Winstanley-Chesters noted.

"It is good that Pyongyang has not gone further in their statement on this, which suggests that Washington DC and the Trump administration could repair whatever damage this has caused," the expert said.

However, the more frequent testing of weapons by North Korea is causing concerns about whether the situation on the peninsula is taking a turn for the worst or even returns to the state in which it was prior to the first summit between the US and North Korean leaders.

Winstanley-Chesters, however, suggested that intensified tests might be a part of North Korea's efforts to keep its weapon development program in the headlines despite being sidelined by the global pandemic of COVID-19 and claims that Pyongyang had been concealing the actual number of cases in the country.

"It is always important for Pyongyang to be in the news and in the global mind, and such frequent small missile testing could be seen as an effort to remind regional neighbours and the wider world that it is still there and still an issue that needs solving ... It could also be a way for North Korea to demonstrate its continued functionality and strength at this difficult time, even COVID-19 can't stop its missile testing programme or reduce its military capability," the expert said.

He added that the launches could have domestic purpose as well, being a part of Pyongyang's efforts "to demonstrate its military capabilities to its own people."

Speaking about the prospects for the US-North Korea bilateral relations, Lee asserted that frequent tests might be aimed at boosting its position in bilateral talks should they resume after the US presidential race.

"The top-down diplomacy between Kim-Trump hasn't been collapsed, but Kim is now carefully looking at a possibility for Trump to be re-elected and preparing for a next negotiation with him or someone from the Democratic Party by raising its leverage with the strategic weapon tests," he said.

Winstanley-Chesters, in turn, underlined that missiles test-fired by the North were short-range, and therefore were not an extension of the country's military capabilities and should not affect its relations with the US.

"I do not see a return to the previous levels of tension on the peninsula while Donald Trump remains president, because him being in power is useful in some way to Pyongyang and he will want to maintain the possibility of leaving a lasting foreign policy legacy which other presidents were not able to achieve," the expert said, noting, however, that the whether this was based on reality or not was another matter.

Denuclearization negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been stalled since Trump and the North Korean leader met in Hanoi in February 2019 where they failed to reach a deal.

Pyongyang has been seeking concessions in Washington's stance ever since, giving its vis-a-vis a deadline until the end of 2019 to restart the nuclear talks. After the US ignored the deadline, Kim vowed that Pyongyang would continue developing strategic weapons.