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Twilight of the Kims?

Having failed to improve its economic prospects, North Korea is once again launching missiles and hoping that saber-rattling will lead to a loosening of international sanctions. But the United States and its allies are already familiar with this script and have decided to write a new one of their own.

ATLANTA – Nearly three years after his failed bromance with Donald Trump, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is once again angling for US attention. North Korea has tested a new, high-tech missile and hinted that it may agree to restart talks with South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in desperately wants to resuscitate his moribund outreach to the North. But if Kim is expecting a positive reaction from US President Joe Biden, he shouldn’t hold his breath. With issues like China and the rebuilding of US alliances topping Biden’s agenda, overtures to Kim are unlikely.

Kim’s dog-eared script is not helping his cause. The latest drama has unfolded all too predictably. In Act One, Kim Yo-jong, Kim’s sister and the North’s spokesperson on North-South affairs, averred that the regime might be interested in discussing a peace treaty with South Korea – an idea that Moon himself had proposed in September. She hastened to add, however, that South Korea will have to distance itself from US demands for nuclear disarmament and end joint military exercises with US forces.

The predictable saber-rattling came a few days later, in Act Two. Following the announcement that the regime had launched a new hypersonic missile and carried out a half-dozen other tests, Kim took to the podium (with his missilery in the background) to tout the North’s “world class defense capability.” Although the Biden administration had sent “signals that it is not hostile,” he declared that the North has “no reason to believe it.” By challenging US credibility, Kim was all but asking the United States to respond, ideally by following its Korean ally’s lead and publicly throwing a bone his way.

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