After months of stalled negotiations, North Korea has announced that it is willing to resume diplomatic talks with the United States by the end of September, repeating its condition that it will not consider abandoning its nuclear weapons unless "external threats" are fully removed. As President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next Monday, with Moon reportedly planning to discuss moving the peace process forward, the clock continues to tick on Kim Jong Un’s year-end deadline for the U.S. to put forth a satisfactory proposal.
As the renewal of U.S.-North Korea negotiations becomes more likely, CNAS experts weigh in on potential next steps for Washington and key issues for journalists to watch for. To arrange an interview with any of the experts below, contact Cole Stevens at email@example.com.
Need a cheat sheet? Read CNAS Adjunct Senior Fellow Duyeon Kim's recent report, “Negotiating Toward a Denuclearization-Peace Roadmap on the Korean Peninsula,” which outlines practical steps to help guide Washington as the Trump administration navigates a range of options in negotiations with North Korea.
- Duyeon Kim, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "My concern is Pyongyang publicly framing the upcoming talks as preparations for a summit statement—this so far doesn’t sound like serious, substantive negotiations for a comprehensive roadmap. Negotiations need to be given a chance to function properly. It would be bad news if the pre-Hanoi process repeats itself in which the nuclear issue is not ‘allowed’ to be discussed at the working level. Both sides should test one another through direct talks and a real nuclear deal, and not by gauging intent and objectives from afar based on public commentaries and actions."
- Elizabeth Rosenberg, Director & Senior Fellow for Energy, Economics, and Security: "In the talks ahead, the United States will be challenged to consider what kind of inducements, including sanctions relief, will motivate North Korea to demonstrate meaningful progress on denuclearization while simultaneously preserving U.S. leverage to act in case North Korea backtracks. The United States has refrained from exposing and punishing North Korea's flagrant circumvention of sanctions for many months in an apparent effort not to sour the nascent bilateral nuclear diplomacy. However, this posture makes the U.S. negotiating position in the coming talks more difficult, and leads many to wonder whether the United States will demand enough from North Korea in exchange for economic relief to the rogue state."
- Kristine Lee, Associate Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "Washington has long seen Pyongyang strictly as a liability—but with a bit of ingenuity, there are also unique opportunities to turn North Korea into a strategic asset in the context of the United States’ broader strategy toward Northeast Asia. This requires Washington to break out of its traditional bilateral approach toward negotiations with North Korea and operate based on a deeper understanding of the interests, redlines, and long-term ambitions of our allies and competitors in the region: Japan, South Korea, Russia, and China. What is the Venn diagram of strategic interests whereby Washington can manage down the North Korea threat while also strengthening its alliances and its posture in Northeast Asia vis-à-vis China?"
- Van Jackson, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "President Trump’s publicly declared willingness to arrange a fourth meeting with Kim Jong Un jeopardizes working level talks with North Korea before they even begin. Achieving a mutual accommodation that stabilizes the Korean Peninsula requires the United States to recognize that Pyongyang thinks it is in a position of bargaining strength, and that leader-level meetings without working-level agreements harm the overall diplomatic effort."
- Neil Bhatiya, Associate Fellow for Energy, Economics, and Security: "At the heart of any renewed diplomatic process will be the vexing question of how to structure sanctions relief in response to proportional moves by North Korea to roll back its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. So far, the administration has been reluctant to outline such a framework, preferring instead a 'big for big' dynamic in which complete sanctions removal is dependent on complete denuclearization. That strategy has plainly not worked. If the administration wants to demonstrate progress, it should clearly delineate a series of intermediate sanctions relief steps that will be undertaken provided North Korea abides by verifiable steps to slow or partially dismantle their own program."
Washington and Pyongyang have yet to agree on what denuclearization looks like and how to achieve the three pillars agreed upon in Singapore: improved U.S.-North Korean relations, a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and complete denuclearization. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking with Kim Jong Un’s year-end deadline for Washington to put forth a satisfactory proposal and a fast-approaching U.S. presidential election cycle.
In a recent report, “Negotiating Toward a Denuclearization-Peace Roadmap on the Korean Peninsula,” CNAS Adjunct Senior Fellow Duyeon Kim outlines practical steps to help guide Washington as the Trump administration navigates a range of options in negotiations with North Korea. Kim identifies crucial challenges for American policymakers and suggests how U.S. and North Korean concessions can be traded for proportionate bargaining.
All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, please contact Cole Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org.