U.S. President Donald Trump disclosed a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his Tweet Thursday, saying, “Great progress being made.” It was after the originally scheduled U.S.-North Korea working-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjom for the repatriation of the remains of American soldiers had foundered due to the North’s cancellation. “Wishing that the invariable trust and confidence in Your Excellency Mr. President will be further strengthened in the future process of taking practical actions, I extend my conviction that the epochal progress in promoting the DPRK-U.S. relations will bring our next meeting forward,” Kim said in the letter.
Some may take issue with Trump’s revelation of Kim’s letter, arguing that such a behavior is against common diplomatic practice. Yet, it is not exactly unusual for Trump to do so, as he made public in May his own letter to notify Kim of the cancellation of a summit. This might be Trump’s style in diplomacy to respond to North Korea that calls the U.S. demands for denuclearization “robber-like.” Still, it is worrisome that at a time when there is no tangible progress towards denuclearization, such non-conventional diplomacy would derail even the existing channels that have been agreed upon by the two countries.
President Trump might have intended to reveal the North’s willingness to improve bilateral ties and Kim’s expression of “deep appreciation” in the letter, thereby quieting criticism that the agreement with the North was made in haste and lacks substance. However, Kim did not mention “denuclearization” at all in his latest letter. He instead urged Trump to bring a second summit forward, in an apparent preference for a top-down approach, saying that the “unique approach” of him and Trump will “surely come to fruition.”
The denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea have not been showing any progress since the freeze-for-freeze agreement was made and both sides accordingly stopped joint military drills and nuclear and missile tests. Pyongyang, arguing that it has already made bigger concessions such as the shutdown of a nuclear test site, is now calling for the declaration of the end of the Korean War. The repatriation of remains, which was stated in the joint statement following the summit, and the closure of a missile test site, which Kim reportedly pledged to implement, are being continuously delayed. The North is apparently demanding that the two sides take the whole process once again to settle on denuclearization actions and corresponding rewards before moving onto the next step.
However, “phased and synchronous measures” proposed by the North are intended to drag on until Washington gets tired, while allowing Pyongyang to seek the easing of economic sanctions and the recognition of a nuclear state along the way. Relations that can make progress only through the form of a summit cannot last long. A national leader of the world’s No. 1 superpower also has a laundry list of issues to take care, other than the North. Still, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s recent comment that Pyongyang’s acts are a strategy and complaint that can often be seen in negotiations sounds as if he approves of the regime’s bad habits. What should be first done is to advise Kim not to dream of anything just with empty words.