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Pyongyang says it will ignore Washington unless it ends ‘lunatic theory

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North Korea has branded Joe Biden’s attempts at low-level diplomatic outreach a “cheap trick” and promised to disregard any communication from Washington unless the US changes its stance towards the nuclear-armed state.

The escalation of tension between Washington and Pyongyang comes as a policy review on North Korea by the new administration is nearing completion and as Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, and Lloyd Austin, secretary of defence, travel to South Korea and Japan.

Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice-foreign minister, said that no “contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the US rolls back its hostile policy”. enges, including the North Korean threat.

Blinken said in Seoul on Thursday that the Biden administration’s renewed engagement with partners would put the US on a “firmer footing” to address the region’s security challenges, including the North Korean threat.

The secretary of state said the North Korea policy review included both “pressure options and potential for future diplomacy”.

“The goals of this policy are clear. We are committed to the denuclearisation of North Korea, reducing the broader threat that [North Korea] poses to the United States and our allies, and improving the lives of all Koreans, including the people of North Korea who continue to suffer widespread and systematic abuses at the hands of their repressive government,” he said.

Blinken’s comments came hours before the first meeting between the Biden administration and China in Alaska, and he noted that Beijing had “tremendous influence” in Pyongyang given North Korea’s heavy reliance on trade with China.

Experts have warned the 37-year-old dictator might soon resume military provocation, including through testing ballistic missiles and other weapons.

Soo Kim, a former CIA North Korea analyst now at Rand Corporation, said a decision to return to talks “rests in Pyongyang’s hands”. “We should remind ourselves that North Korea’s penchant or reflex for provocations is a fait accompli. And US or international efforts to whet Pyongyang’s appetite for dialogue is, similarly, quite limited,” she said.

Amid mounting signs that North Korea faces an economic and humanitarian crisis — stemming from tough sanctions, strict border closures and typhoon damage — South Korea has called for the easing of sanctions and greater international aid as well as steps that might entice the North Korean leader back to talks.

However, Kim Jong Un was unlikely to “panhandle for humanitarian aid” nor make “substantive concessions”, Soo Kim added.

“Kim has provocation tools at his disposal. And these tools are much more effective than North Korea conceding or compromising,” she said.

Jessica Lee, a researcher with the Quincy Institute, a US think-tank, said rather than reinvigorate Trump’s diplomatic efforts, “the Biden administration seems to be leaning towards maximum inflexibility”.

“Absent positive security assurances, it is unrealistic to think that Kim Jong Un would voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons,” she said.

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