As Denuclearization Talks Stagnate, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Heads to Iran

TEHRAN – Iran welcomed the Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, as North Korea is officially known), Ri Yong-ho, to Tehran one day after the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran. The visit also came in the midst of faltering talks between Pyongyang and Washington over fulfilling the goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

Ri met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday, when the foreign minister briefed Rouhani on the ongoing talks between the DPRK and the U.S.

Ri also criticized Washington’s abandonment of the landmark six-party nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which offered sanctions relief in exchange for Iran curbing aspects of its civil nuclear program. On May 8, U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from the agreement in spite of pleas from signatories to deal, including Iran, that the hard-fought accord be salvaged through any available means.

According to the Iranian presidential palace, the North Korean senior official described the U.S.’s reintroduced sanctions as inappropriate and a clear violation of international norms.

The Iranian president commented:

The U.S. administration’s performance in these years has led the country to be considered untrustworthy and unreliable around the world, [as one] that does not meet any of its obligations … In the current situation, friend countries should develop their relations and cooperation in international communities alongside each other.”

On the prior day, the DPRK’s foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. According to Iran’s foreign ministry, Ri himself had requested the official visit to the country.

 

Pyongyang losing hope in the “arrogant powers” in DC?

Both Iran and North Korea were once described by Washington as members of the “Axis of Evil,” a term introduced by former U.S. President George W. Bush to describe defiant nations that resisted pressure to comply with the dictates of the so-called “international community,” largely dominated by top-tier wealthy nations in Europe, Asia and North America. At the start of the new millenium, the U.S. was largely an unchallenged global hegemon.

On Thursday, Ri met with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani to continue conveying his gratitude for Tehran’s support amid trying times.

Noting the long-standing ties between the Islamic Republic and the besieged DPRK, Ro highlighted Pyongyang’s satisfaction with the resilient and longstanding friendship between the two states, adding that “we are very content with developing relations between Iran and North Korea, while we are both experiencing similar problems under U.S. sanctions,” according to Iran’s Mehr News.

Conveying Iran’s will to continue deepening bilateral relations, Larijani warned against taking the “arrogant powers,” as Tehran frequently refers to U.S. officials, at their word:

The Americans speak very well during negotiations and promise a bright future, but in practice, they do not meet any of their obligations.”

During the talks, the DPRK’s top diplomat offered a grim assessment of Washington’s intentions:

Dealing with Americans is difficult, and as our main goal is total disarmament of the whole Korean Peninsula, it is necessary that the Americans also abide by their commitments, but they refuse to do so …  Although [Pyongyang] has agreed on disarmament to deliver on its commitments in negotiations with U.S., we will preserve our nuclear science as we know that the Americans will not abandon their hostility toward us.”

Pyongyang has protested the U.S. refusal to lift sanctions during ongoing nuclear talks. The discomfort and distrust between the two sides was revealed when Foreign Minister Ri and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encountered one another during last week’s ASEAN Regional Forum yet didn’t hold separate talks.

In the past week, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton has appeared on U.S. television for several consecutive days to stress the U.S.’s continued adherence to a “maximum pressure” approach to ensure Pyongyang irrevocably “denuclearizes.”

Bolton — who had largely been hidden from sight, given the DPRK leadership’s intense loathing of the “super-hawk” advisor they describe as “execrable” — also asserted that the U.S. has held up its end of the declaration made during the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

An editorial from progressive South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh noted that both sides’ stubbornness is preventing progress from being made. The editorial cited Bolton’s belligerent messaging alongside Pompeo’s offers to hold another meeting with Kim as a “’good cop, bad cop’ strategy of combining dialogue with pressure about denuclearization,” and concluded, “But stubbornly insisting on this familiar method is actually likely to prolong the current deadlock.”

A Thursday press statement by the DPRK Foreign Ministry also shows that Pyongyang may be realizing the lessons it can learn from the fate of the JCPOA, namely that any ground ceded by Washington may well be a tactical retreat that doesn’t veer from a strategy steeped in hostile intent.

The ministry stressed:

Some high-level officials within the U.S. administration are making baseless allegations against us and making desperate attempts at intensifying the international sanctions and pressure.

Expecting any result, while insulting the dialogue partner and throwing cold water over our sincere efforts for building the confidence that can be seen as a precondition for implementing the DPRK-U.S. joint statement, is indeed a foolish act that amounts to waiting to see a boiled egg hatch out.

The international society is struck by this shameless and impertinent behavior of the U.S., and we also closely follow the U.S. behavior with high vigilance [regarding] their intentions.”

Top Photo | President Hassan Rouhani, right, greets North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the start of their meeting, at the presidency office, in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 8, 2018. Iranian Presidency Office via AP

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

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