U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Seoul following his fourth trip to Pyongyang on Sunday. The result of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has yet revealed, but it appears that the two sides have neared an agreement on the timing and location of a second U.S.-North Korea summit given the atmosphere during Pompeo’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. However, it seems that the issue of submitting the regime’s list of nuclear arsenal and a roadmap for denuclearization has not been settled while it is the fundamental reason for the months-long deadlock in dialogue after the June 12 summit in Singapore.
The fourth visit of Pompeo to North Korea was originally scheduled for August, but it was abruptly cancelled by President Trump, as North Korea, without having implemented actual steps towards denuclearization, had insisted that the United States first take action by declaring an end to the Korean War and lifting sanctions on the regime. With the golden time already lost for several months, Pompeo’s latest visit has significance in that it fueled momentum for a second Trump-Kim meeting, though there were not specific progress in terms of denuclearization.
Still, we have no time to waste by focusing on rhetoric or holding talks for the sake of talks. The U.S. midterm elections (scheduled for Nov. 6) are now less than a month away, and the international community is growing divided on the imposition of sanctions on the North. The Trump administration will not give up on its purpose of denuclearizing Pyongyang itself, but is likely to be tempted to produce some visible results in specific areas before the midterm elections. South Korea’s Moon administration also has a strong will to make visible achievements ahead of the midterm elections.
Regardless of the elections’ results, however, if North Korea’s denuclearization drive turns out to be just a politically motivated show, the U.S. Congress and public will not stand idly by. Expectations for the complete denuclearization of North Korea have been increasingly dampened compared to early this year. The Moon administration seems to be prioritizing the improvement of the inter-Korean relations over the South Korea-U.S. alliance and trying to play the role of a mediator who mostly persuades Washington. Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, who had a meeting with President Moon on Friday during her trip to South Korea, said that Seoul “supports the stance our (Russian) Foreign Minister expressed at a United Nations Security Council meeting, saying that there is a need to ease sanctions on North Korea.” Meanwhile, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui is scheduled to hold vice-ministerial talks with Russia on Monday, and trilateral talks including China on Tuesday in Moscow.
If the situation continues, there will be a crack in the front of levying sanctions on the North Korean regime, and the international community will be torn between the U.S. side that demands sanctions remain in place and the other side with North Korea, China, and Russia. In order to produce meaningful results from a hard-won opportunity, North Korea and the United States must put the train heading for denuclearization on an irreversible track at a second summit.