August 30, 2018 10:54
The North Korean nuclear crisis appears to be returning to the same point it had reached before the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June.
Dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea has ground to a halt as the North made it clear it has no intention to take significant steps by reporting its nuclear weapons arsenal or agreeing to a timeframe. The U.S. has canceled a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang, apparently because of a "belligerent" letter from the North and its insistence on declaring a formal end to the Korean War first.
Washington also ramped up sanctions against the North and is leaning on Seoul to hold off from opening a liaison office in North Korea.
Cheong Wa Dae is trying to downplay the latest developments by saying it now has a bigger role to play as a "facilitator and mediator" of rapprochement. But U.S. pressure is compounding woes for the South ahead of another inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang flagged for next month.
The U.S. is also hinting that it could resume joint military drills with South Korea, which the North dreads. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday, "We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises."
Trump halted the drills after the Singapore summit in a gesture that struck many as rash and unwarranted since Kim had not asked for it.
Pompeo in a statement on Tuesday said, "America stands ready to engage when it is clear that Chairman Kim stands ready to deliver on the commitments that he made at the Singapore summit to President Trump to completely denuclearize North Korea."
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Pompeo will visit when the "North Koreans stand ready to [engage in dialogue] and we think it can be productive."
That dashes South Korea's hopes for various cross-border exchanges based on agreement reached during the April 27 inter-Korean summit. The South seems stumped when it comes to setting the agenda for the next summit.
It is now clear that the U.S. will not tolerate anything that could look like a softening of sanctions at the moment, not even taking equipment over the border for the liaison office, let alone any bigger economic projects like fixing infrastructure.
If South Korea goes ahead, it could damage its ties with the U.S. Even before Pompeo canceled his trip to North Korea, the U.S. had been calling increasingly frantically on South Korea to hold its horses.
That could give North Korea a perfect excuse to lash out at Moon for reneging on his promises and get it out of keeping its own. Concerns are mounting that Moon would leave empty-handed if he meets with Kim in these circumstances.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is still scheduled to visit Pyongyang next month for the North's 70th founding anniversary celebrations, and it seems unlikely that Washington can persuade him to stay away amid an escalating trade war with China.
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