SEOUL, South Korea — When North and South Korean officials meet in Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday for their first high-level dialogue in six years, the South will face a government with a nuclear policy that has become more defiant under its young new leader, Kim Jong Un.
The two sides intend to discuss reopening a joint industrial complex in a North Korean border town and other economic and humanitarian projects. The meeting will be the first dialogue at a senior level since Kim took power after the death in 2011 of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Under the young Kim, North Korea has declared that it is no longer interested in talks on ending its nuclear weapons program, and its ruling Workers' Party adopted a national strategy of reviving the country's moribund economy while continuing to expand its nuclear arsenal.
"That may sound like nonsense to outsiders, but it makes perfect internal sense in North Korea," said Bong Young Shik, a senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. "Giving up nuclear weapons is like abandoning the survival strategy for its regime. Giving up the economy is like giving up the role of the party as the mother of the people."
To achieve the economic part of its objective, North Korea needed its adversaries — especially South Korea, the country with the biggest potential for helping its economic recovery — to ease sanctions. But after years of dialogue failed to persuade North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons, the adversaries have grown increasingly weary of engaging the country in another round of talks. They have focused, instead, on pressuring the country with more sanctions.
China, a traditional ally, also has shown signs of frustration with North Korea. After North Korea's nuclear test in February, Beijing supported the U.N. move to impose more sanctions on the North, barred its state banks from dealing with the North's Foreign Trade Bank and reportedly tightened its cross-border inspections.
"Kim Jong Un realized that its old tactic of using provocations to extract concessions no longer works," said Woo Seong Ji, a North Korea specialist at Kyung Hee University in South Korea. "So he is switching to dialogue to shake up the situation."
After months of bellicose talk, an agreement to have a dialogue, reached Monday, created a sense of easing tensions on the divided peninsula.
But absent in the agenda for the Korean talks was any direct mention of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, indicating how stubborn the North's position remained on the issue.