North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said at the United Nations General Assembly Saturday (local time) that “Without any trust in the U.S., there will be no confidence in our national security, and under such circumstances, there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first.” Ri also reiterated the North’s demand for “corresponding measures” from Washington, saying that “The DPRK government’s commitment to the denuclearization is solid and firm. However, it is only possible if the U.S. secures our sufficient trust towards the U.S.” With a second Trump-Kim meeting likely to be realized, the North seems to be openly demanding the formal declaration of the end of the Korean War and the easing of sanctions.
In fact, Ri’s address at the United Nations has been toned down compared with last year when he said that “We will take preventative measures by merciless preemptive action unless the U.S. and its vessel forces show any sign of operating a decapitating operation on our headquarters or military attack against our country.” Back then, he even threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. Still, the North’s latest address is assertive and full of condemnation of Washington in contrast to President Trump’s praise of “Chairman Kim for his courage” during this year’s speech.
With China and Russia calling for the easing of sanctions, North Korea seems to be planning to create an atmosphere favorable to sanctions relief under the belief that South Korea implicitly agrees with the two allies. Ri further criticized the U.N. Command stationed in South Korea, saying that it “only obeys the orders of the United States” and is hindering a joint inspection for connecting railways of the two Koreas.
Pyongyang’s such attitude only makes it more difficult for the two sides to keep the momentum going. A second Trump-Kim summit will be achievable only after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to the North takes place following working-level talks in Vienna, Austria. President Trump is highly likely to stress the “good relationship” with the North until the country’s midterm elections scheduled for Nov. 6. On Saturday, Trump even said that he and Kim “fell in love” after sending letters to each other, but he has never forgotten in his speeches to mention that he has given up on nothing.
Until next month, a tiring tug-of-war will be played out behind closed doors between Washington and Pyongyang while the two sides will remain friendly, at least ostensibly. North Korea’s excessive demands will only deepen distrust and leave the Trump administration with little room for maneuver. Kim Jong Un promised to dismantle a Tongchang-ri missile test site without any strings attached in the Sept. 19 Pyongyang Declaration, but no progress has been made since then. This makes us doubt whether he intends to use it as a leverage in the upcoming negotiations. Without Kim's first implementing what he has promised and earning trust, the U.S.-North Korea relations will continue to be stuck in a deadlock.