Not easy for US and DPRK to make real headway
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong-un has said he is only interested in meeting President Donald Trump again if the United States comes to talks with the right attitude.
Speaking last Friday, Kim said that he would wait “until the end of this year” for the US to decide whether or not to make a “new calculation” that would enable a third summit meeting to take place.
He is ready for it should Washington demonstrate the proper approach, saying it was Washington’s attitude problem that rendered their last summit in Hanoi fruitless. Kim said that the US came with “completely unrealisable plans” and was “not really ready” for serious troubleshooting with Pyongyang.
This so disappointed and frustrated Kim’s regime that it has begun to question whether the US is really trying to improve the DPRK-US relationship and is wondering whether its previous steps to promote engagement with Washington were the right thing to do.
In what was the most comprehensive review of Pyongyang’s recent interaction with Washington, the DPRK leader put the ball decisively back in Washington’s court after the US president floated the idea of a third summit last Thursday.
Washington maintains unabated zeal for a deal of some sort, because otherwise the engagement with Pyongyang since last year will be regarded as failure. So, more likely than not, the US will try to find a way to keep the possibility of a summit alive.
But the “correct manner” Pyongyang demands is that Washington forsakes its “maximum pressure” and demonstrates sufficient goodwill by relieving, or completely rolling back, sanctions, putting an end to the state of war, or, even better, offering economic incentives.
After making a couple of reconciliatory gestures, such as freezing nuclear and missile tests and demolishing some test sites, Pyongyang wants something in return. This is not unreasonable, but so far Trump’s administration has made no concession.
Washington should not anticipate that Pyongyang will denuclearise in a wholesale, one-off manner. After all, its nuclear missile programmes are the sole bargaining chip it has in its hands.
Rather than surrender its nuclear arsenal completely, it is in Pyongyang’s best interests to turn its engagement with Washington into an arms control regime between two nuclear states.
It may be that a third Trump-Kim summit happens. But meaningful headway in denuclearisation entails more than what the two sides appear ready to offer at the moment.