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U.S.-N. Korea talks must build momentum regardless of midterm election

U.S.-N. Korea talks must build momentum regardless of midterm election

Posted September. 21, 2018 08:04,   

Updated September. 21, 2018 08:04


U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the inter-Korean summit on Wednesday (local time), saying that the result of the summit was “very good news” and “a tremendous progress” had been made. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also welcomed the meeting of the two heads of Koreas, calling it “a successful result,” and he proposed to meet North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho next week in New York, while pushing for a negotiation between U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun and his North Korean counterpart in Vienna, Austria. His proposals are aimed at rekindling talks between the United States and the North, while handling high-level and working-level meetings at the same time.

In regard to the Dongchang-ri nuclear test site, Secretary Pompeo redefined the inspection of countries concerned as “an inspection of the U.S. and international inspection panel.” As to the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, Pompeo added that Pyongyang had accepted the inspection of IAEA panel, which had not been officially mentioned by the North before. The period of denuclearization has also been mentioned clear-cut as January 2021, when the term of President Trump will have reached the end. All those moves are based on the assumption that both parties are working towards FFWD (Final, Fully Verified Denuclearization). Even so, the rift between Washington and Pyongyang appears ever so gaping.

Skepticism prevails among the members of U.S. Congress and experts, which draws a sharp contrast against the positive view of the Trump administration. As to the result of the latest inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, many voice concerns that the North “has a long record of breaking many engagements” and that “the communist state has only made clear its will to possess nuclear weapons.” The Trump administration is taking a careful approach. Instead of sending Pompeo to Pyongyang again, it is arranging a meeting with Ri, who is scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly meeting, and the venue for working-level negotiations has also been set as Vienna, which is considered as a move to reaffirm Pyongyang’s sincerity.

Currently, President Trump is preoccupied with November’s midterm election. Knowing this, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un must plan to earn a concession on end-of-war declaration by playing their denuclearization card. For now, it looks like Washington is focused on keeping the mood of dialogue and managing potential risks, rather than pushing for a full-blown negotiation. The blithely favorable comments from Trump may have been a lip service to polish his diplomatic finesse.

Washington won’t move easily if Pyongyang fails to prove its commitment to denuclearization with action. Pyongyang must start by dismantling their test site as promised under a thorough international monitoring. South Korean Moon Jae-in will be meeting President Trump next week, smoothing over potential frictions between Washington and Pyongyang. As the chief negotiator, Mr. Moon must not stay too much excited over his three-day trip to North Korea.