The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dismissed prospects for an early resumption of diplomacy with the United States, saying US expectations for talks would "plunge them into a greater disappointment".
Kim Yo Jong issued the statement after US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan described as "interesting signals" her brother's recent statement that North Korea must be ready for both dialogue and confrontation, but more for confrontation.
"A Korean proverb says that 'in a dream, what counts most is to read it, not to have it'. It seems that the US may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself," Kim Yo Jong said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
"The expectation, which they chose to harbour the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment," she said.
Her statement came as the top US envoy on North Korea affairs, Sung Kim, is visiting South Korea. Sung Kim said Monday he hoped to see a positive reaction from the North soon on US offers for talks though he said US-led sanctions on North Korea will stay in place.
During a major ruling party meeting last week, Kim Jong Un analysed the Biden administration's North Korea policy and ordered officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation, "especially to get fully prepared for confrontation," to protect national security and dignity, according to state media.
But Kim's publicised comments didn't include any harsh rhetoric against Washington and Seoul, an omission that prompted conflicting analyses among outside experts. Some said Kim Jong Un hinted he planned to apply more pressure on the United States to ease its policy on the North, while others argued he was emphasising the possible resumption of talks.
During an interview with ABC News, Sullivan said that "His comments this week we regard as an interesting signal. And we will wait to see whether they are followed up with any kind of more direct communication to us about a potential path forward."
In recent months, the North Korean leader has threatened to bolster his nuclear deterrent and claimed that the fate of diplomacy and bilateral relations depends on whether Washington abandons what he calls hostile policies, in an apparent reference to the sanctions and regular US military drills with South Korea.
US officials have suggested Biden would take the middle ground between Trump's direct dealings with Kim and President Barack Obama's policy of "strategic patience". But some experts say the Biden administration would not ease any sanctions before the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearisation.
The US-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear programme has since February 2019, when the Americans rejected the North Koreans' demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities during a summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, North Korea has banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade. The self-imposed lockdown has caused further strain on an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over the country's nuclear weapons programme.
The country has told the World Health Organisation it tested more than 30,000 people for the coronavirus through June 10 but has yet to find a single infection. Experts widely doubt North Korea's claim, given its poor health infrastructure and porous border with China.
Kim, during a political conference last week, called for officials to brace for prolonged Covid-19 restrictions, indicating that the country isn't ready to open its borders anytime soon.