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A View On The U.S. - DPRK Nuclear Consultation
Views:1458 Updated:2019-12-13

After the U.S. and the DPRK having failed to make a breakthrough in their denuclearization negotiations in recent months, the relationship between the two is once again down to a low level now. Before the recent turning down of their relations, the U.S. and the DPRK had managed to warm up their ties for more than a year, with two summits taking place between the U.S. president Trump and the DPRK chairman Kim respectively in Singapore and Vietnam, as well as with a brief meeting between the two at the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea this June upon Trump’s visit to South Korea.

Very recently, with the U.S.-DPRK nuclear consultations at the working level reaching a deadlock, both sides have appeared to be losing patience, and they have started to accuse each other of being provocative. The DPRK expressed its discontent by launching new missile tests; also it urged the U.S. to give up its animosity toward North Korea, and demanded the U.S. side to work out effective measures to break up the negotiation deadlock.

On the U.S. side, upon Mr. Trump’s attending of the NATO summit earlier this month, the U.S. president admitted the intensive situation with North Korea. He claimed that the U.S. may consider taking forceful means against the DPRK. Shortly after that, Mr. Trump received a series of more severe critics from the DPRK officials. The North Korean representative to the U.N meanwhile declared that denuclearization has been taken out of the table already. Later the U.S president threatened that the continuing animosity and provocation of North Korea could result in the losing of “Special Relationship” between himself and Kim; and North Korea risks losing of everything.

The above briefly depicts the current situation regarding the U.S.-DPRK denuclearization talks and the relationship between the two. What have caused all these then? Where is the possible way out at least under the current circumstance?

This piece would set a view that the U.S. domestic politics remains as one of the major obstacles in preventing the U.S. – DPRK denuclearization consultations from moving up toward a sound direction. As part of the U.S. political culture, the two main parties keep fighting with each other; and the domestic political situation has created a lot of uncertainties for addressing the DPRK nuclear issue. As a result of that, the U.S. president and the officials working on this issue don’t seem to have rallied enough support to back their position in dealing with the DPRK.

We can recall the occasions when the two Trump-Kim summits taking place subsequently in Singapore and Vietnam. The U.S. domestic response to the summits and the reactions from the international audiences were of a drastic contrast - after Trump and Kim having managed to reach a common understanding out of their first summit on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, there were voices of applause at the regional and international levels more generally; Some thought that the U.S. president made history by having secured a meeting with a North Korean leader to move the nuclear discussions up to a new level. Nevertheless, this outcome didn’t appear to be appreciated that much domestically. The domestic political environment tended to downplay the outcome; and some even accused Trump of as the U.S. president having lowered himself and of being too soft toward the DPRK.

Then how was the second summit in Vietnam? The DPRK leader traveled more than 60 hours by train to catch that meeting, while the U.S. president escaped from another event with the western leaders in order to meet the North Korean chairman. They both seemed to be quite sincere toward a sound result. The international community also put a lot of expectations on the summit. Nevertheless, at around the same time when the summit was taking place, the U.S. domestically was busy with instigating investigations and issues against Trump’s presidency. After all, the summit wasn’t going the way as many had expected. It ended with the U.S. president walking away in the middle of the summit, and later with the DPRK official releasing a critic in response in the midnight.

Along with that, there were voices and discussions about the causes of Mr. Trump’s walking away. It is hardly to judge whether the U.S. domestic political situation against the U.S. president at that particular moment affected Mr. Trump’s stance in dealing with the DPRK or it was actually of an issue related to other matters. The thing which was clearer however is that the U.S. leadership and those aiming to move forward the denuclearization consultation process so far haven’t been able to secure enough domestic political support.

In addition to that, it is doubtful whether there has been a common voice within the current U.S. administration regarding how to break the dilemma and step further the negotiations. Therefore, if the U.S. would put a good will on this matter, there is a need for the U.S. president or any U.S. presidents and the officials working on this issue to strive a common sense in the first place; and then they have to work together to create a favourable domestic political environment to back their position in dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue.

Moreover, to break the current stalemate, it is suggestible for both the U.S. and the DPRK to be realistic. From the very beginning of the U.S. and North Korea starting to engage with each other, they haven’t been able to reach a common understanding on the meaning and process of denuclearization. From the U.S. perspective, North Korea must have to denuclearize in the first place “completely, verifiably and irreversibly”, as the U.S. officials clearly demanded; in exchange North Korea would receive a compensation from the U.S.. But North Korea may have a different understanding on the meaning of denuclearizing, which is assumed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula step by step. In line with that, sanctions are supposed to be lifted gradually along with the denuclearization process taking place. Also whether withdrawing of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula could be another major concern of North Korea in relation to denuclearization, as some observed.

Under such a circumstance, it is of significance for both sides to be clearer about the meaning of denuclearization from their own perspectives at least at the current stage, and then to see whether and in what degree it could be possible for them to make concessions to each other in order to secure a further common understanding based on what they have agreed previously. In the mean time, it is hopeful that other parties’ mediation and facilitation through various ways could contribute to the process made by the U.S. and the DPRK.

To reach a common understanding on the meaning of denuclearization, it is unrealistic for the U.S. and the DPRK to insist their positions held now. From the North Korea perspective, the U.S. demanding appears to be more unrealistic, given of what had happened with the U.S. involvement in some countries including Iraq and Libya, as well as of the uncertainties of the U.S. domestic political environment. There is a necessity for the U.S. to understand that security is the critical concern of North Korea. If North Korea must have to choose between security and the U.S. compensation, it would prioritize security. Without guaranteeing of security, the compensation promised by the U.S. doesn’t seem to be attractive to North Korea.

Overall, to alter the current intensive relationship between the U.S. and the DPRK, and to get the nuclear negotiations back on track, the U.S. has to take into account the three major issues - striving a common position among the members working on the DPRK nuclear issue, rallying as much as domestic political support, and understanding better the current situation and North Korea’s security concern.

Apart from all the above analysis, the final issue for the current U.S. administration to take into cognizance could be how far the U.S. domestic political environment would allow the U.S. leadership and the officials working on the North Korea issue to spare more time and energy on dealing with it before the 2020 election. This could lead to another discussion.

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Copyright:Centre for Strategic Thinking