U.S. and North Korea negotiating postures following the Hanoi summit
Although the second U.S.-North Korean summit between the two leaders on North Korea’s denuclearization ended in late February 2019 without an agreement, government officials and analysts pushed for more negotiations.
“The meeting wasn’t the disaster some proclaim. A bad nuclear deal wasn’t agreed to; the door to a better one remains open,” summedGerald Seib in a March 4, 2019, article in The Wall Street Journalnewspaper. (Pictured: U.S. President Donald Trump exits Air Force One during a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska, on February 28, 2019, on his return from his Vietnam meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.)
South Korea President Moon Jae-in quickly re-engaged after the summit.
“We hope that both countries will continue their dialogue and that their leaders meet again quickly to reach an agreement that was held off this time,” he said during a Blue House meeting on March 4, 2019, The Associated Press reported. “In the process, our role has become important once again,” Moon said. “While I believe the United States-North Korea negotiations will eventually reach an agreement, it’s never desirable for a vacuum in dialogue or stalemate to prolong.”
Later that day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Iowa Farm Bureau that he was hopeful the United States would send a delegation to North Korea in the coming weeks.
“I am hopeful, although I have no commitment yet, that we will be back at it, that I’ll have a team in Pyongyang in the next couple weeks,” Pompeo said.
Moon served as intermediary twice before in 2018: in May after Trump canceled the first planned summit and in September after Trump canceled Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang in August 2018.
Before the recent summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump announced that he was in “no rush” for North Korea’s denuclearization. His priority: to ensure a continuation of the halt to the regime’s ballistic and nuclear missile testing.The negotiations ended without agreement,largely due to discordant definitions of terms, analysts explained. Short-term disappointment, however, produced some new clarity.
During the discussions, North Korea communicated a clear, core demand for the first time, according to an analysis by Ankit Panda in the online magazine The Diplomat.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said that “North Korea had a clear request in a clear sequence: It wanted the five most recent United Nations Security Council resolutions to be lifted, and in exchange it would offer up the ‘nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area,’” Panda reported. In this way, North Korea expressed how it defines “corresponding measures” that it has requested since the Singapore summit in June 2018. The regime sees the U.N. sanctions imposed in 2016 and 2017, which essentially cover everything but arms trade, as a fair exchange for the proportion of its nuclear and ballistic weapons capabilities that key components of its Yongbyon facilities comprise. Namely, North Korea was likely willing to give up its major fissile material-producing facilities, the 5-megawatt electric gas-graphite reactor and gas-centrifuge uranium enrichment sites at the sprawling 300-building complex, Panda surmised.
The U.S. government position remains that sanctions will continue until North Korea completely denuclearizes.
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said on CBS’ Face the Nationin early March 2019 that although the U.S. couldn’t accept North Korea’s terms, President Trump “deepened his relationship with Kim Jong Un.”
“The silver lining here may be that the personal Trump-Kim relationship, while insufficient to produce the big-bang deal, may help keep the process on track despite the Hanoi setback,” Seib wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
In his TV appearance, Bolton maintained there is “no expiration date” for denuclearization discussions. “The president is fully prepared to keep negotiating at lower levels or to speak to Kim Jong Un again when it’s appropriate,” he said.
In the meantime, the two sides seem to be jockeying for a stronger negotiating position. Although North Korea has continued to hold off its missile and nuclear tests in the past year, Reuters reported that satellite images showed that structures on the Tongchang-ri launch pad had been rebuilt sometime between February 16 and March 2, 2019, according to the Stimson Center think tank.
For its part, the U.S. scaled back its longtime military exercises with South Korea soon after the summit, but in response to the subsequent report of the new satellite images, Bolton said the U.S. will consider increasing sanctions if North Korea doesn’t give up its nuclear weapons program.
“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear. … They’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them, and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” Bolton told Fox Business Network.