October 01, 2019

How to Make Proportionate Bargains with North Korea on Denuclearization and Peace

By Duyeon Kim

The United States and North Korea will finally sit down for nuclear talks on October 5, according to an announcement by Pyongyang. Three months had passed without negotiations despite a handshake in June between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, to resume working-level talks. North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui finally proposed on September 9 that the two sides meet at the end of the month, but, until now, Pyongyang had been “negotiating” through the media rather than discussing possible dates directly with its American counterparts for a meeting. It had praised Trump for suggesting he would try a “new method” with Pyongyang, as it had been demanding a “new calculation” from Washington for negotiations since the no-deal Hanoi summit in February. However, Trump’s remarks were made in the context of differentiating between the so-called Libya model, which North Korea sees as a formula for its demise: giving up nuclear weapons leads to the death of their leader.

More concerning is North Korean commentary framing the upcoming talks publicly as “preparations for a summit statement agreement.” This throws into question whether negotiators will be able to engage in any credible negotiations on the nuclear issue yet again. North Korean envoys were not given any room to discuss this core topic ahead of the past two summits, claiming it was for Kim to decide. This resulted in a vague leaders’ statement in Singapore and no agreement in Hanoi. Upping the ante, Pyongyang publicly warned on September 16 that it would discuss denuclearization only after “threats and obstacles” to their country are removed.

Negotiating with a country like North Korea involves many twists, turns, and delays. It also operates on an exponentially longer time scale while Trump has just over one year to achieve meaningful results before the next presidential elections, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in has about three years to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula. Trump may very well be the only American president who is willing to deal directly with Kim and provide massive benefits in unconventional ways, but Pyongyang so far continues to follow its old negotiating playbook instead of boldly rolling the dice to test Washington directly through meaningful negotiations.

Read the full article in The National Interest.

Read more from Duyeon Kim's June 2019 report about the possible path to North Korean denuclearization:

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