North Korea Not Interested In Any Talks With U.S.
The Trump Administration's strategy in North Korea is an utter failure.
North Korea is making it clear that it isn’t interested in further talks with the United States, thus making it clear that the President’s strategy toward the DPRK has been an utter failure:
A statement from North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan, posted by state news agency, KCNA, said: “I interpreted President Trump’s tweet on the 17th to signify a new DPRK-US summit” but “we are no longer interested in these meetings that are useless to us.”
Kim suggested that the US is trying to portray “advancement in Korean Peninsula issue” but that it was a delay tactic.
“We will no longer give the US president something to boast about for nothing in return, and we must receive from the US what is corresponding to the results that President Trump is already boasting as his achievements,” Kim said.
CNN is seeking comment from the White House.
In his tweet, Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to reach a deal, saying: “You should act quickly, get the deal done” and hinted at another meeting, signing off with “See you soon!”
In October, Kim praised his “special” relationship with Trump, with one of North Korea’s most respected diplomats telling state media the two leaders maintain “trust in each other” even though working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang in Sweden had collapsed earlier that month.
North Korean diplomats said they broke off those negotiations because of what they described as US intransigence. The State Department disagreed, saying the two sides had a “good discussion.”
Unlike his predecessors, Trump has embraced a top-down approach to nuclear negotiations with North Korea in the hopes of solving a problem that has eluded successive US administrations.
All of this comes after what has been a relatively quiet summer on the North Korean front. While there hasn’t been any news that can be considered progress in any talks between the United States and the DPRK, there are also hasn’t been a significant breakdown. This is the case notwithstanding the fact that the season started out with warnings from Pyongyang that there would not be progress in talks between the two countries if the United States continued to insist on unrealistic goals for the talks. As the summer wore down, though, North Korea began warning the United States that made specific reference to those goals and stated that time was running out for the resumption of negotiations, now we have what appears to be a final deadline of the end of the year.
All of this appears to be a specific reference to American insistence that the ultimate goal of negotiations is the elimination of the DPRK’s existing nuclear arsenal, something that Pyongyang clearly isn’t going to do. In the meantime, North Korea has seemingly become more belligerent, launching a series of short-range missile tests that President Trump has largely dismissed despite the obvious threat they pose to South Korea and Japan.
Specifically, it is clear that the Trump Administration continues to base negotiations on a faulty understanding of what North Korea agreed to in previous meetings and what it is likely to agree to in the future.
Immediately after his first meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, for example, President Trump claimed that there was no longer a nuclear threat from the DPRK because of what happened at the meeting. The evidence since that time, though, it has been clear both that Kim Jong Un did not agree to what Trump claimed and that the summit itself, as well as the two subsequent meetings between the men in Hanoi and at the Demilitarized Zone, were little more than photo opportunities.
The extent to which this statement from Trump was erroneous became apparent only months after that first summit. At that point, it was reported that North Korea was increasing production of the fuel needed to make additional nuclear weapons and that it was concealing the existence of ongoing nuclear weapons research at secret facilities well hidden from both surveillance and, most likely, the ability of the United States to take the sites out in a military strike. Additionally, it became apparent in the days after the summit that the much-publicized destruction of the DPRK’s primary nuclear weapons test site, a much-hyped pre-summit event that was witnessed by American and other international journalists, was much less than met the eye and that the site could easily be rebuilt if needed in the future. Weeks later, we learned that the DPRK had also begun work on the construction of new ballistic missiles at yet another secret site.. Additionally, analysts who have seen satellite images say that the DPRK has made a second large nuclear reactor operational. This type of reactor is capable of making plutonium which is, of course, one of the main fuels used in the production of nuclear weapons. This new reactor can reportedly make four times as much plutonium as North Korea’s current reactor, which has been the source for the plutonium needed for its nuclear arsenal to date. Finally, in the wake of the summit in Hanoi that again appears to have been more hype than hope, Pyongyang appears to be making major repairs to a previously abandoned ballistic missile test facility that could be signs that they are planning either a new round of tests or a satellite launch.
More fundamentally, though, the American position in talks with North Korea ignores the fact that the United States and North Korea have fundamentally different ideas of what “denuclearization” means. For the United States, it essentially means that the North Koreans would give up their nuclear weapons, their ballistic missile technology, and their research programs in both areas. In exchange, it appears that the United States has made what seem to be vague at best promises about sanctions relief and the grandiose promises that President Trump has made about the benefits that would result from to the North Korean economy if it opened itself to the world even though there’s no indication that Kim Jong Un or the leadership in Pyongyang want that kind of future for their country.
It’s still possible, of course, for the United States to end up with an agreement with North Korea that would go a long way toward reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. For example, we could finally negotiate an end to the Korean War via a peace treaty that includes not just the DPRK and the United States but also China and South Korea. This treaty could conceivably include agreements that would reduce tensions along the Demilitarized Zone that would include the removal of troops on both sides that have spent the last 60 years and more on a hair-trigger for war. Among other things, this would significantly reduce the risk to some of the most heavily populated areas of South Korea, which at the moment remain vulnerable to a North Korean military strike that could come with virtually no warning. Perhaps, this would make it possible for the United States to remove some of its forces in the future.
Developments over the past year also offer a guide to what talks with the North Koreans could realistically achieve. For example, tensions on the Korean peninsula, which have been on a razor’s edge since the end of the Korean War and ramped up significantly during the tit-for-tat exchanges that took place between President Trump and the North Korean leader throughout 2017, have calmed down significantly over the past year. Additionally, the relationship between North and South Korea appears to be better than it has been in several years during which the DPRK was engaged in provocative action such as firing missiles at a South Korean naval base and attacking a South Korean naval vessel. Making those changes permanent would be a good thing. However, as I have noted before (see here, here and here), if the United States continues to insist that the ultimate goal of these talks is the idea that North Korea will give up its existing nuclear arsenal then it is guaranteeing that the negotiations will fail.