Saber-rattling shows 'old' North Korea still 'alive and well' — and won't fully give up its arsenal 

  • North Korea's harsh tone after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shows the old regime's instincts are "alive and well," Eurasia Group wrote.
  • Pyongyang likely won't fully relinquish its arsenal, a move that the U.S. will likely recognize as talks continue, Eurasia Group warned.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un inspects Unit 1524 of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) June 30, 2018. 
KCNA | Reuters
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un inspects Unit 1524 of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) June 30, 2018. 

North Korea's harsh reaction to a high-level U.S. visit last week underscores how Pyongyang's militaristic impulses are still "alive and well" — and is unlikely to fully relinquish its arsenal, Eurasia Group said on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to the hermetic regime prompted a bellicose response from the North Korean government, which hurled accusations of "gangster-like" diplomacy at Pompeo's efforts to encourage the country to lay down its nuclear arms. Pyongyang's response provoked new fears that a tenuous detente between North Korea and U.S. could already be nearing an end, even amid overtures from the totalitarian Communist regime.

In a research note, political risk analysis firm Eurasia Group suggested the strong reaction to Pompeo's visit "does not heighten the risk of talks breaking down in the near term." Moreover, it added that President Donald Trump was unlikely to respond to North Korea in the near term — a suggestion reinforced by the Secretary of State's own downplaying of North Korea's sharp remarks.

However, Eurasia estimated that high-level talks between Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un would continue, but fall short of full denuclearization.

"The longer-term outcome is de facto U.S. recognition of a nuclear weapons-armed North Korea," the firm said, adding that North Korea's sharper tone "clearly indicated that the old North Korea is alive and well" in spite of public goodwill between Kim and Trump.

"Whatever epiphany Kim did or did not have, he still needs to project strength to reduce pushback he might be encountering at home to his strategy of engagement with the U.S. and willingness to even discuss the possibility of giving up his nuclear weapons," Eurasia's analysts wrote.

"Kim also wants to ensure that the US and the world fully understand that he has no intention of giving away anything for free, or as quickly as the US might demand, but will instead work to ensure engagement proceeds slowly, with the US providing significant concessions throughout this process," it added.

In fact, North Korea's rhetoric is directed as much at China and South Korea as it is the United States, Eurasia Group's analysts wrote.

"Kim’s tough stance also reflects Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to both cultivate and play on his relationship with Kim and ensure that China remains a key player in negotiations," it said. China is also eager to remind the U.S. that it needs Beijing's help to manage Pyongyang, Eurasia group pointed out, as a trade war erupts between the two countries.

"Pyongyang’s warning that US demands might erode its willingness to denuclearize will intensify pressure on South Korean President Moon Jae-in to redouble efforts to keep the peace process on track," Eurasia's analysts wrote. "South Koreans want relations with the North to continue to improve, motivating Moon to keep expanding outreach to it or otherwise accommodate Kim to avoid him getting cold feet."

Trump's diplomatic gambit has been greeted with skepticism from all sides of the foreign policy establishment, amid deep skepticism that Pyongyang would willingly give up its nuclear arsenal. Indeed, a spate of recent reports suggest the regime is still at work beefing up various parts of its nuclear arsenal.

According to a report by 38 North, a website that tracks events in North Korea's closed society, the government recently completed work on a cooling system for one of its reactors. Last week, The Wall Street Journal cited satellite imagery showing the North Koreans expanding a missile manufacturing facility in the city of Hamhung.