Seoul, Washington Need to Stop Talking up N.Korea Deal

      July 09, 2018 13:41

      U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed as he left Pyongyang on Saturday that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's right-hand man Kim Yong-chol "had many hours of productive conversations" and there was "progress on almost all of the central issues." Just hours later a spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry in a statement accused the U.S. of "gangster-like demand for denuclearization" and dismissed the talks as "regrettable." Unlike during his two previous trips, Pompeo failed to meet with Kim Jong-un himself.

      Pompeo's visit was a chance to check if the North really intends to give up its nuclear weapons. If Kim Jong-un was serious about living up to his end of the deal, North Korea should have at least offered Pompeo a basic timeframe, including the process of verifying denuclearization.

      Instead, Pyongyang called for an official peace treaty ending the Korean War and insisted that the closure of a ballistic missile test site and return of the remains of American soldiers killed in the war were fantastic concessions, even though they have nothing to do with denuclearization. The peace treaty will mean the dissolution of the UN Command in South Korea and should not be dealt with in the early stages of denuclearization talks. North Korea also downplayed the significance of a halt to large-scale joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, which is was one of the biggest gifts Seoul and Washington could offer, suggesting its own destruction of an already unusable nuclear test site was a much bigger concession. U.S. President Donald Trump, who unilaterally offered to halt the joint exercises, ended up wasting a valuable negotiating card.

      North Korea has been using the same tactics in protracted talks with the U.S. for the last 25 years, "salami-slicing" the process by demanding rewards at each minor stage to buy time and then simply reneging on its commitments. That provided it with the opportunity to conduct six nuclear tests. If North Korea succeeds in drawing Trump into the same swamp, it will end up becoming a nuclear-armed state.

      The international community for some reason placed its hopes in Trump in the deal because he stressed quick, permanent denuclearization, but instead he gradually shifted the goalposts in favor of the North. The originally envisaged deadline has already moved from six months to more than two years, and insistence on a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" of North Korea's nuclear weapons has given way to some other form of words, depending on the day of the week. North Korea seized the chance to attack the U.S.' resolve by saying that the "unilateral" U.S. demands... run counter to the spirit of the Singapore summit meeting and talks."

      It looks like denuclearization talks will be prolonged and become ever more difficult. Yet Trump and Pompeo claim there has been progress on all fronts and seem unwilling to stop basking in the glow of the North Korea-U.S. summit on June 12 that produced. Even Cheong Wa Dae has called for realistic expectations and warned of a lengthy process. But with U.S. mid-term elections scheduled in November, Trump has little incentive to paint a realistic picture of the North Korean nuclear situation and needs to pretend that everything is going well, and the South Korean government now has too much riding on a favorable outcome to admit it may have been overly optimistic. But unless the two allies stop glorifying the results of engaging North Korea, the North will only feel emboldened to behave badly.

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