With North Korea expected to start to feel the pinch of international sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Pyongyang is attempting to work out its relationship with the US and mend fences with Seoul, the ministry said as quoted by Yonhap.
"North Korea may continue to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities while searching for an outlet externally. In searching for the recognition of its status as a de-facto nuclear-possessing state, (the North) would explore the possibility of negotiations with the US," the ministry said in its predictions for North Korea in 2018.
North Korea is ready to talk directly to Washington about “guarantees for its security” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson in Vienna earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the international sanctions on North Korea, tightened after its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September, are starting to hit home with foreign countries reducing imports of North Korean workers and exports to China, Pyongyang’s main trading partner, having dropped almost 32 percent since January.
North Korea’s trade turnover with China has dropped 10.2 percent since January to $4.67 billion, the ministry’s report said, adding that domestic gas prices have spiked almost three times as a result of the United Nations Security Council restricting oil exports to the country.
On December 12, Rex Tillerson was quoted by NPR as saying that Washington would be willing to enter negotiations with North Korea without requiring that it agree beforehand to give up its nuclear weapons program.
The willingness to engage in talks without that understanding is a significant change in the US approach.