Less than three months after the pomp and ceremony of the Singapore summit, relations between the US and North Korea are stuttering and the point of contention is clear: Pyongyang wants a declaration ending the officially unfinished Korean war before denuclearisation negotiations can proceed.
“The declaration of an end to the war is a task that cannot be postponed,” said North Korea’s state media on Tuesday, addressing the issue directly after weeks of subtle hints.
But the demand is a complicated one and one that creates a dilemma for the US.
Why does North Korea want this declaration?
The overarching objective of the Kim Jong Un regime is survival. For decades, it ploughed most of the country’s scarce resources into bolstering its military and building nuclear weapons in order to stave off the threat from the US and its allies. Now as it engages in diplomacy, it is seeking some form of security guarantee from Washington. “Kim Jong Un needs this guarantee, so that he can persuade his military and people that North Korea is now able to give up its nuclear weapons,” said Koh Yoo-hwan, a policy adviser at South Korea’s national security office.
Why is North Korea making this demand now?
At the Singapore summit in June, Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump signed the Sentosa Agreement, an accord named after the island where they met. Since then, the US has focused on point three of the agreement: a pledge to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang, meanwhile, has zeroed in on the first two points of the document, which vow to establish new relations and “build a lasting and stable peace regime”. This discrepancy in sequencing has in recent weeks led Pyongyang to criticise Washington for making “unilateral and robber-like denuclearisation demands”. Sceptics argue that such behaviour is typical of the regime, which is only interested in dragging out talks and securing concessions for each step along the way. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency published earlier this week highlighted the “continuation and further development of [North Korea’s] nuclear program”.
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