Here's what North Korea hopes to gain by offering denuclearization talks

Key Points
  • North Korea's offer to hold talks on denuclearization is just another ploy to gain concessions, experts warned.
  • The rogue state has a long history of promising disarmament in exchange for loosened sanctions, aid or other assistance.
Pyongyang, March 5 2018: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) shakes hands with South Korean chief delegator Chung Eui-yong (C), who traveled to the North as an envoy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea is reportedly willing to hold talks on denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S. If true, the development marks a fresh milestone in the global quest to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

But the rogue state's latest olive branch may just be another ploy to gain concessions.

Following a two-day visit to the North by South Korean envoys — the latest chapter in peace efforts between the two neighbors — the head of the Southern delegation Chung Eui-yong said on Tuesday that the reclusive regime expressed a "willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula."

But that's only if "the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed," Chung noted.

Such comments are a welcome respite amid escalating tensions between President Donald Trump and Kim. Still, they aren't expected to produce any breakthroughs.

We believe a breakdown in dialogue is possible at any time, particularly if Pyongyang fails to obtain significant concessions
Miha Hribernik
senior Asia analyst, Verisk Maplecroft

The news "represent the next step in North Korea's 2018 charm offensive," Miha Hribernik, senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note.

"If past experiences are anything to go by, Kim Jong Un is hoping to extract a loosening of sanctions or other assistance by feigning a willingness to disarm," Hribernik explained. "The North Korean economy is straining under the weight of sanctions, forcing the country to resort to a well-worn playbook."

Years of failed negotiations, most notably during the 2003-2009 Six-Party Talks, indicate the North's long-standing pattern of offering talks in exchange for fuel oil, aid or a release of frozen funds.

A breakdown in dialogue is possible "at any time, particularly if Pyongyang fails to obtain significant concessions," according to Hribernik.

President Bill Clinton's administration provided a security guarantee to Pyongyang in 1994 as part of a deal to halt the country's nuclear program but both parties didn't keep to their side of the bargain.

The Clinton administration promised Pyongyang heavy fuel oil shipments and construction of light-water reactors, but these were delivered only partially or not at all, noted Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies researcher at the Australian National University.

Seems to be a case of 'we've seen this movie before' with North Korea
Seems to be a case of 'we've seen this movie before' with North Korea

As a result, "North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile programs partially and resumed it when it became clear that the George W. Bush administration was not going to honor the promises," Petrov added.

So, what does Pyongyang want now?

This time around, Kim could "ask for something much larger" than aid, such as the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, said Kyle Ferrier, director of academic affairs and research at the Korea Economic Institute of America.

But that's a demand Washington will likely never accede to.

"It is possible [Kim Jong Un] is trying to have his cake and eat it too — By saying he is willing to talk about the nuclear program, Kim looks like he's entering the negotiations in good faith, while knowing that he'll ask for an impossible concession in return," Ferrier noted.

The White House and Seoul must be cautious about any concessions put on the table, "knowing that North Korea has reneged on multiple negotiated agreements in the past," he continued.