U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday that he will not rush into an agreement with North Korea, referring to the ongoing talks including a second U.S.-North Korea summit. A senior White House official also said that a second Trump-Kim meeting will likely take place early next year. This shows that the Trump administration intends to avoid a mistake made while preparing for the June 12 summit in Singapore, in which the two sides rather hurriedly confirmed the date, leaving them pressed for time to discuss specific denuclearization measures.
Washington apparently wants to hold a second bilateral summit once progress has been made in the working-level discussion to the extent that they have confidence that the North will take actual steps towards denuclearization. If a second Trump-Kim meeting is pushed back to next year, it is highly likely that an end-of-war declaration will not be made within this year against the South Korean government’s expectations. South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has originally speculated that a second summit will take place until late November, and accordingly planned to declare the end of the war through a trilateral summit ahead of Kim’s visit to Seoul in December, in order to move on to the next phase of its roadmap. However, such a scenario may have to be adjusted.
The fundamental reason a Trump-Kim meeting is delayed is because the North has not even taken the first step of denuclearizing itself. Moreover, the regime has been calling for the easing of sanctions without regard to the end-of-war declaration, further complicating the process. Pyongyang’s blunt demands need to be met with a stern rejection and request for the inventory of nuclear arsenal, but it is not the case in reality.
President Moon, during his 9-day trip to Europe, repeatedly stressed the need to lift sanctions on North Korea. Cheong Wa Dae said that his visit to European countries was a successful chance to bring up and discuss the issue of easing sanctions on North Korea, but in fact, it made the South Korean government to realize European countries’ will towards the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) and hit a wall. If Seoul believed that sanctions need to be partly eased to push ahead with denuclearization, it should have first discussed the issue with the United States and come up with a unified strategy that can help prevent the North from misjudging and losing a willingness to denuclearize. Moon’s diplomatic moves in Europe, which seemed to be aiming for creating a “united anti-sanctions front” with other permanent Security Council members, were inappropriate.
Cheong Wa Dae still believes that Kim’s visit to Seoul can take place before the year’s end. However, arranging Kim’s visit at a time when no actual step towards denuclearization has been made by the North is only likely to fuel the controversy. The inter-Korean relations should not and cannot be improved separately from denuclearization.