SEOUL, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- One of North Korea's highest-ranking defectors, Thae Yong-ho, said Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump's outreach to Kim Jong Un, which led up to their summit in Singapore, was a "total failure."
Thae, who served as the North Korean deputy ambassador to Britain before defecting in 2016, called the agreement signed by Trump and Kim at their historic Singapore summit in June 2018 "the worst diplomatic catastrophe I've ever seen in American foreign policy."
He made his comments at a briefing with reporters Wednesday afternoon in downtown Seoul.
Thae has been highly critical of the efforts by the United States and South Korea to take a conciliatory diplomatic approach with North Korea and has long warned that Kim would never give up nuclear weapons.
"I strongly believe that the Kim Jong Un regime will not denuclearize at all," Thae said.
The former diplomat praised the more hard-line stance on negotiations that the United States has taken since a second summit between Kim and Trump, held last February in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended without an agreement.
Thae, who was labeled "human scum" by North Korean state media after his defection, announced last week that he will run for election to South Korea's National Assembly in April under the main opposition party, the conservative United Future Party.
He said his campaign would spread a message of democracy to North Koreans, especially the thousands of students, workers and diplomats living abroad who have smartphones and are able to access the Internet.
"This is a great opportunity to show the North Korean people our democracy and freedom," Thae said. "North Koreans, who had little interest in South Korean elections in the past, have started to pay attention and become interested due to my campaign."
Thae would become the second North Korean defector to serve in the National Assembly if he is elected. Cho Myung-chul, who came to South Korea in 1994, served as a representative from 2012 to 2016.
Thae also criticized the approach of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's administration, which has favored economic engagement with North Korea as the first step in the peace process, arguing instead that humanitarian issues should be the focus.
"If we only talk about cheap labor and natural resources, we are just exploiting North Korea, not using this as a bridge to unification," Thae said. "[W]e have to approach them in a way that is more humanitarian, because we share the same blood, because we are the same human race. That is how we will be able to attract North Koreans to agree with unification, not with an economic marriage."
The defector will be running for office under the name Thae Gu-min, which means "rescue the people."
"I adopted the new name and registered it in 2016 to make it harder for the North to track me down and harm me," Thae said.
He added that he is in regular contact with security experts and government agencies to protect against future attempts.
"I am now able to safeguard myself against these hackers' attacks, and I also have connections with the right organizations in the government in order for security," he said.
Thae said his long experience as a diplomat would allow him to speak with authority to both ruling and opposition party lawmakers in the National Assembly and help shape a new policy toward North Korea.
"I have been talking for a long time about issues related to unification, but because I was just a normal citizen, my voice was not heard," Thae said. "If I do get elected, I would like to use my experience and knowledge working in former North Korean diplomatic circles to draw up rational and effective diplomatic policies."
He added he would approach lawmakers in Washington if elected to try to convince them that the United States-South Korea alliance should be built on shared values rather than only economic interests.
"I want to tell the American lawmakers that this alliance is not only for commercial purposes," Thae said. "This alliance must be for the sake of values and for the sake of freedom and democracy."
Washington and Seoul have been deadlocked over a new cost-sharing agreement for maintaining the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed on the peninsula.
Thae's criticism of Trump's diplomatic approach to North Korea echoes comments made by former members of the president's administration in recent days.
Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly was quoted in The Atlantic last week saying that Kim "will never give his nuclear weapons up," while former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that the administration's effort to get Pyongyang to denuclearize was "going to fail," according to The Washington Post.
"This idea that [North Korea] can be coaxed into giving up ... their nuclear program was flawed from the start," Bolton said.