Ri Yong Ho Speaks at the United Nations
Ri Yong Ho, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea took to the podium at the United Nations General Assembly to make clear the intentions of the country in the ongoing peace negotiations with the Republic of Korea and the United States. He began his speech by expressing the importance of peace in Korea and mentioning the ongoing challenges being faced by his government in the pursuit of peace.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho speaking at the UN General Assembly 2018
The minister recapped the numerous diplomatic events of the year, placing particular importance on the US-DPRK summit in June and the rapid turnaround of the domestic policy coming out of Pyongyang. However, he made clear that the shift was due primarily to the completion of the national defence force allowing for the government to refocus on the development of the socialist economy. Speaking about their effort to reinvigorate the economy, Ri Yong Ho spoke about the requirement for an atmosphere of peace to allow the country’s economy to grow. His speech then shifted gear to focus on the joint statement that was signed by the United States and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Singapore and the importance of fully implementing the agreement to achieve renewed relations with the US and complete denuclearisation of the peninsula. He spoke about the importance of the full implementation of the agreement to overall denuclearisation and his country’s intention to turn Korea into a ‘cradle of peace’.
Trust-building was the key theme of the rest of the speech. The minister noted the failure of previous talks, and blamed their failure on the mistrust of all sides by all parties, and that the building of trust between sides must be the main aim of current talks to provide a solid foundation for future negotiations to ensure that these talks to not collapse as others have in the past. Alongside trust building, the speech made reference to the importance of simultaneous actions from the United States given the goodwill gestures made by Pyongyang this year including the closure of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in a ‘transparent manner’ and the halt of nuclear and missile testing. Ri Yong Ho then made it plain that his government does not approve of the lack of action being taken by the US administration.
“…however, we do not see any corresponding response from the US, on the contrary, instead of addressing our concern for the absence of a peace regime in the Korean Peninsula, the US insists on denuclearisation first and increases the level of pressure using sanctions to achieve their purpose in a coercive manner and even objecting the declaration of the end of war”Ri Yong Ho
The minister spoke about how sanctions are failing to push Pyongyang to denuclearise, and makes the government distrust the United States even further and blamed these actions for the deadlock that has occurred in negotiations between the two sides leading the minister to state:
“Without any trust in the US there will be no confidence in our national security and under such circumstances there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first”Ri Yong Ho
In contrast, President Trump made a much more conciliatory statement during his address, praising the DPRK
The minister finalised his statement by making it clear to the United States delegation present at the general assembly that his country has suitable reason to distrust the US based on past actions, trade blockades and it’s unique use of nuclear weapons in war. He stated that denuclearisation of Korea is dependent on concessions made by the United States and stronger bonds of trust to ensure these talks do not fail like all previous denuclearisation negotiations. He ended his speech in an attack on the UN Security Council, calling for easing or removal of sanctions due to the lack of nuclear and missile tests and said the UN and the Security Council were ‘obeying’ the United States and they had a significant role to play in the peace process in Korea.
This speech has been one of the clearest statements of intent from Pyongyang in recent months. Hugely symbolic, high profile meetings have overshadowed the importance of working-level talks between the US and DPRK and this speech has highlighted a disgruntled Pyongyang which sees itself being held at gunpoint by the United States and forced the unilaterally denuclearise. This speech in front of the global community at the General Assembly, laid out the view that denuclearisation is not simply in the hands of Pyongyang, but a complex multi-stage process which hinges on unnamed concessions being made by Washington. It could be argued that Pyongyang is, once again, pushing back against the US and it’s wish for quick denuclearisation of Korea, using it’s denuclearisation as leverage to gain more ground in negotiations and achieve more of it’s goals. The major takeaway from Ri Yong Ho’s speech is that denuclearisation must be met by major, reciprocal and simultaneous concessions from Washington, and without them, Pyongyang has no incentive and no willingness to begin concrete steps towards dismantling it’s state nuclear force.