Ongoing Tensions Following Trump-Kim Summit By Jun Kwon and Sung Jang
Negotiations over the complete denuclearization of North Korea following the Trump-Kim summit on June 12 have heated up again. North Korea keeps demanding the U.S. provides security guarantees through the official end of the Korean War and a lifting of sanctions before it takes further steps toward the denuclearization. The U.S. still requires that North Korea must show rapid and genuine dismantlement of nuclear weapons through rigorous inspection and verification before any rewards are granted.
The statement by the Foreign Ministry of North Korea released on July 7 after the Secretary of State Pompeo completed his third visit to North Korea called the U.S.’s actions “regrettable” and “gangster-like” and claimed that despite North Korea’s actions of goodwill, the U.S. has proven unwilling to change its position on Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID). Unless there are major changes to the approaches of both sides, it is becoming increasingly likely the talks will fail, like in the past.
North Korea’s frustration stems from the U.S.’s unwillingness to change its position on CVID. There is some evidence that North Korea is sincerely interested incomplete denuclearization, considering its suspension of ICBM proliferation and the destruction of a nuclear test site, is open to negotiating return of P.O.W. remains.
The United States, on the other hand, has not offered to discuss the timetable of declaring the formal end of the Korean War or the lifting of sanctions. Rather, the U.S. has continued to demand North Korea completely disarm first, prior to making concessions regarding denuclearization.
This stalemate is not surprising considering the political pressures in play. Despite Trump’s unprecedented reaching out to Kim Jong Un, the president is greatly constrained by domestic pressures back home. The voices of hard-liners are gaining power as North Korea fails to display rapid follow-up actions. Skepticism about the sincerity of Kim has re-emerged among both aisles of Congress.
There is also skepticism in the U.S. intelligence community on North Korea’s intentions to completely give up nuclear weapons. Recently, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have reported that North Korea is continue with its nuclear weapons development in secret. This seems to be repeated patterns of the past negotiations which could get the negotiation derailed.
Worryingly, these patterns of development are very similar to those of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the past negotiations. The U.S.–North Korean summit produced a document similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework (some would say it has even less terms laid out). The U.S. and North Korea in 1994 only agreed to work towards economic and diplomatic normalization. Political will on the side of the U.S. to deal with North Korea was also weak during the period of implementing the agreement as the United States did not fulfil its obligations to supply North Korea with Light Water Reactors in place of its heavier ones. Similarly, extended talks such as the Six Party Talks have also failed due to the CVID issue that the U.S. refused to budge. The success of the nuclear deal hinges on how drastically President Trump is able to escape from this obsolete way of thinking.
Political will after the U.S.–North Korea Summit seems to have quickly diminished. The lack of political will and the refusal to change U.S. CVID approach to North Korea, and poor implementation of the agreements are the three factors that have remained constant throughout all instances of negotiations with North Korea on the issue of denuclearization.
When it comes to denuclearization of North Korea, it is a long and difficult process. The U.S. must approach the issue of North Korea with the mind-set of more engagement policy, a long-term process where concessions are made between the two parties. The North Korean nuclear issue is a complicated issue that is core to the survival of the regime. Trump’s most difficult task would be to convince North Korea that its regime survival is intact after denuclearization, something much more difficult than the Iran Deal.
On the bright side, the personal chemistry and trust between President Trump and Chairman Kim still appear to remain undiminished, which could be the driving force to enable them to keep meeting and negotiating. The July 7th statement said that “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump.” In a similar vein, President Trump tweeted two days after the release of the North Korean statement that “I have confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake.”
Jun Kwon is Chair of International Studies and Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College. Sung Jang is government student at Utica College.