U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday (local time) that he will meet with his North Korean counterpart next week to continue talks on the denuclearization of the regime. Observers speculate that the high-level meeting will be held around Wednesday and Thursday in New York. As the Trump administration has maintained its stance to not rush negotiations ahead of the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6, all eyes are on whether the talks next week can serve as an opportunity for the two sides to finally break the current deadlock.
It is expected that a number of agendas that have been put aside will be on the table all at once, possibly including the composition of inspectors and their schedule to visit North Korea’s nuclear and missile test sites in Punggye-ri and Dongchang-ri. In addition, the two sides are likely to decide the location and schedule of a second U.S.-North Korea summit and to discuss each side’s demands in implementing the roadmap towards denuclearization including the submission and verification of the North’s nuclear inventory, sanctions relief, and the declaration of an end to the Korean War.
Meanwhile, the result of the U.S. midterm elections could affect the ongoing talks. It is tough to predict how the result will turn out, as much as it was two years ago during the presidential election, and it is hardly easy to predict whether the Trump administration’s stance in the denuclearization drive will change accordingly. Still, unless the Republican Party loses the majority both at the Senate and the House of Representatives, it seems unlikely that there will be a great shift in Washington’s policy toward Pyongyang, which President Trump has touted as an achievement that no U.S. administration had ever made. The result may rather build momentum for Trump’s reelection, accelerating the timetable for denuclearization to drive North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons before the next presidential election.
Since the June 12 summit in Singapore, Washington and Pyongyang have seen no actual progress in terms of denuclearization amid “promises not accompanied by implementation” and “propaganda lacking in substance.” In particular, the Nov. 6 midterm elections of the U.S. were only used to maintain the status quo, blocking any possibilities to move forward or go back. Once the elections are finished, the two sides will pick up speed in their negotiation. However, as evidenced by empty promises made in Singapore, they cannot jump straight to a second Trump-Kim meeting without actual progress. Substantive talks need to be held to end the five-months-long vacuum, and this can take place when North Korea takes action that shows its sincere willingness to denuclearize.