Despite tensions on the Korean peninsula temporarily cooling as the Winter Olympic games approach, North Korea has made it clear throughout diplomatic talks with their neighbor to the South that they are unwilling to discuss a dismantling of their nuclear program. Although the United States has agreed to postpone military exercises until after the games, they remain committed to establishing a denuclearized North Korea, and are proving it by co-hosting a new round of talks in Canada on Tuesday aimed at further strangling finances from Kim Jong Un’s regime, forcing him to relinquish his pursuit of more advanced nuclear weapons and ballistic missile platforms.

Although North Korea and South Korea are currently engaged in their first diplomatic dialogue in over two years, North Korea has offered little in the way of overtures toward peace, issuing harsh criticism of South Korean President Moon Jae-in for giving credit to the American President, Donald Trump, for pushing North Korea toward talks with sanctions. They have even already threatened to not participate in the upcoming games as a result, despite their participation being granted at the request of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un. Nonetheless, some have voiced concerns that the timing of these talks could prevent potential progress with the reclusive state from developing.

I’m sure, given the circumstances on the peninsula right now, that the attendees to that meeting will be very careful about what they say publicly,” Joel Wit, of the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told reporters last week, “because I think most of them there would not want to ‘upset the apple cart’ in any way.”

“I think whatever they do, whatever they say,” said Wit, “it’s going to be supportive of what the South Korean government is trying to achieve.”

U.S. and Canadian officials, who are co-hosting the event that includes delegates from 18 other nations, are expected to discuss ways to ensure maximum implementation of the most recent round of sanctions ratified by the U.N. Security Council. These new sanctions, widely seen as the strictest measures taken against Kim’s regime thus far, dramatically reduce oil imports into North Korea, while further stifling their export market. Since the sanctions were approved, North Korea has indeed began making moves toward diplomacy with South Korea, seeming to suggest that Kim may be starting to feel the pressure brought about through the effort.

An important part of that implementation process, however, is also increasing maritime security around the Korean peninsula. A number of vessels have already been identified via satellite images helping North Korean exporters circumvent sanctions, for instance, by transferring goods onto vessels from other nations to be sold at foreign ports. South Korea has already seized two ships suspected of smuggling oil into North Korea, in violation of sanctions in place, as well.

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Although the talks will see participation from all of the nations that supported South Korea in the Korean War with the addition of Japan, the conspicuous absence of both China, North Korea’s primary ally, and Russia, who have offered Kim’s regime tacit support throughout the heightening tensions, has expanded the diplomatic gap between the U.S.-led coalition and neighboring military powers in the Pacific.

China, in particular, has criticized the decision to pursue these talks as “Cold War” thinking.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press