Why Were High-Level U.S.-N.Korea Talks Canceled?

      November 08, 2018 13:50

      A scheduled meeting on Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's right-hand man Kim Yong-chol has been canceled at the last moment. "We will reconvene when our schedules permit," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "Ongoing conversations continue to take place." It is unclear which side canceled the meeting, but something momentous must have happened for it to be called off just a day after the State Department announced it.

      The meeting had spurred hopes that North Korea would finally be willing to discuss concrete denuclearization steps and the U.S. offer some reciprocal measures. But the abrupt cancellation has raised fears of the nuclear impasse dragging on. A second U.S.-North Korean summit penciled in for early next year is now unlikely to go ahead as well.

      The fact will emerge eventually, but it certainly looks as if the differences between the two sides were too wide for any fruitful talks to go ahead. This could have been expected when North Korea refused earlier to submit an inventory of its nuclear weapons and facilities and stubbornly insisted on an end to sanctions. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un disappeared from public view for 19 days after Pompeo made his fourth visit to Pyongyang early last month, suggesting that any hopes of easing sanctions were dashed. When he reappeared he said, "Hostile forces are fanatically engaging in vicious sanctions to topple us." Since those comments, North Korea's state media have all been touting the virtues of "self-reliance" and preparing for a drawn-out battle. The North issued a threat by saying, "If sanctions are not eased, we could resume our pursuit of a war footing."

      Kim was quoted as telling President Moon Jae-in earlier, "Before trust is built up between the U.S. and North Korea, demanding that we give the U.S. a list of our fissile materials, nuclear weapons and delivery systems is the same as telling us to submit a list of targets for attacks." Presumably it was not so much that Kim wanted to raise the stakes to win more concessions but that he simply never had any intention to denuclearize in the first place.

      After Trump canceled Pompeo's trip to Pyongyang in late August, negotiations resumed, and since the U.S. says that "conversations continue," it seems not all negotiations have ended. But as long as the North refuses to take concrete steps toward denuclearization, no future talks can produce results. It is important to discover what the North Korean leader's true intentions are.

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