Pompeo Heads to Pyongyang Amid Stalling Talks
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) this weekend. The trip comes amid renewed tensions between Washington and Pyongyang and the joint call by the two rival Korean governments last month for the US to join a declaration officially ending the Korean War — which Washington has continued to decline.
Contrary to the expectations that came from the historic summit held in Singapore between US President Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un in June, talks between US and DPRK have recently stalled, especially over the issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
After the summit between Trump and Kim, the US State Department announced a beginning of bilateral negotiations “through the process of rapid denuclearization of North Korea, to be completed by January 2021, as committed by Chairman Kim.” Further statements since the summit have highlighted a “timeline” to complete denuclearization talks by January 2021 — before the end of Trump’s first four-year term.
However, both Trump and Pompeo have been backing away from this goal. In a news conference after a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations (UN) last week, Trump has expressed a new different approach to the negotiations, stating “we’re not playing the time game.”
After the bilateral summit between US and DPRK in Singapore in June, Pyongyang positively responded to US’s request for partial denuclearization, including its offer to dismantle a nuclear facility in Yongbyon, which the state newspaper claims it to be the central nuclear facility. However, the DPRK government has increasingly been reluctant to make more concessions. In his speech to the UN last week, foreign minister of DPRK Ri Yong-ho attacked the US, stating “continued sanctions are deepening our mistrust.”
He went further, declaring that “without any trust in the US, there will be no confidence in our national security, and under such circumstances there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first.”
Indeed, the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea) foreign minister has also commented that US should put efforts to a potential end-of-war declaration in return for DPRK’s promise to dismantle the site at Yongbyon. Still, experts have questioned the scale and singularity of the site. In September, current and former US officials told NBC News that, according to US intelligence reports, North Korea is building a structure to hide nuclear weapons, and could produce five to eight nuclear weapons this year.
Experts on North Korea are divided over the debate on whether or not North Korea sincerely intends to denuclearize. Some, including the current government in Seoul, argue that Pyongyang is prepared to denuclearize completely. Another popular theory is that the DPRK intends to reduce but not eliminate the nuclear weapons after receiving economic benefits and security guarantees from the US.
Despite the apparent stalemate, Trump has praised North Korea and positioned himself as a successful negotiator. Last Saturday, at a rally in West Virginia, Trump proclaimed to the crowd that Kim “wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.” In Twitter posts, he has also thanked the leader of DPRK.
Despite the image that Trump seeks to project, the implications of Trump’s initiative in engaging the DPRK leader continues to be debated even among Trump’s allies. On Wednesday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) went after Trump in remarks made at the Atlantic Festival, noting “from my point of view, this love crap has to stop. There’s nothing to love about Kim Jong-un.” Graham also alluded to the difficult nature of the negotiations, stating “You get stuck into the love thing and nothing changes. So he has really created a hard choice for himself, President Trump.”
Pompeo is expected to arrive at Tokyo for his first stop. His main goal in Pyongyang is to schedule another summit between Kim Jong-Un and Trump. On the same trip, he is expected to make stops in South Korea and China in order to communicate with his counterparts in the region. Seoul is reportedly expecting an end-of-war declaration of Korean War from the White House after the potential second summit between Trump and Kim Jong-Un.