As Pompeo heads for Pyongyang, North Korea appears to raise its demands
In this July 6, 2018, file photo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by North Korean Director of the United Front Department Kim Yong Chol, center, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, second from right, as he arrives at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Andrew Harnik/AP) October 3 at 7:38 AM
TOKYO â" President Trump may have fallen âin loveâ with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un, but Pyongyang wants more than just beautiful words. It wants Washington to prove its affection â" by lifting sanctions.
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Pyongyang this weekend to prepare the ground for a second Trump-Kim summit, North Korea appears to have upped its demands, arguing that the United States should prove it is serious about dialogue by easing sanctions, before it takes steps to denuclearize.
After a summit between the leaders of the two Koreas last month, Kim said he was prepared to permanently dismantle his countryâs main nuclear site, but only if the United States also took âcorresponding stepsâ to build trust.
At the time, it appeared that meant a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, as a signal that hostilities between the two countries were over. But over the past few days, Pyongyang has signaled it may want more than that to move forward.
A declaration to end the war should have come half a century ago, after the warring parties signed an armistice agreement, the Korean Central News Agency wrote in a commentary on Tuesday. âIt can never be a bargaining chip for getting the DPRK denuclearized.â
North Korea refers to itself as the Democratic Peopleâs Republ ic of Korea, or DPRK.
By contrast, the Yongbyon facility is a âcoreâ part of the countryâs nuclear program, KCNA argued. Yongbyon is the site of the countryâs only nuclear reactor, producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons, but is also believed to house a separate uranium enrichment facility
âThe KCNA commentary shows that North Korea is constantly raising their demands,â said Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at South Koreaâs Sejong Institute.
A similarly combative message was delivered by North Koreaâs Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday.
âThe perception that sanctions can bring us on our knees is a pipe-dream of those who are ignorant about us. But the problem is that the continued sanctions are deepening our mistrust,â he said.
âWithout any trust in the U.S. there will be no confidence in our national security and under such circumstances there is no way we will unilater ally disarm ourselves first.â
Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers' Party of Korea, underlined the point in an editorial Sunday.
âSanctions and dialogue can never go together,â it wrote. âIt is a contradiction that the U.S. is talking about the dialogue with its partner while ratcheting up sanctions and pressure on it. The U.S. should squarely see the trend of the times and make a proper choice.â
The United States argues the sanctions should remain in place until North Korea has fully and verifiably denuclearized.
[A massive spike in oil smuggling eases the economic pressure on North Korea]
Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, said the comments âreally puts a little bit of cold waterâ on the hope that North Korea might provide a list of its nuclear and missile sites in return for an end-of-war declaration.
In order to build trust, North Korea, he said, appears to want âa trans formation of the relationship, and the first step of that would have to be comprehensive sanctions relief.â
Experts say Pyongyang is not ready to offer a comprehensive list of its nuclear facilities, believing this would either be disbelieved or give the United States a list of future military targets.
Instead it wants to take things at its own pace, offering up Yongbyon as part of a phased process where both sides take steps to build trust.
The offer to close Yongbyon âdoesnât get at the heart of their program. But itâs a good first step,â said Joel Wit, a senior Fellow at the Stimson Center who was involved in past negotiations with the North Koreans while working at the State Department. âKnowing the North Koreans, I think they have other things up their sleeve that they are willing to do.â
Experts differ about North Koreaâs sincerity: some like Narang say it has no real interest in disarmament and is instead just milking the process f or whatever benefits it can get.
Others say Pyongyang might be prepared to reduce â" but not eliminate â" its nuclear stockpile and missile capability, in return for economic benefits and security guarantees from Washington.
The South Korean government and some experts go further, arguing that Kim might be prepared to completely denuclearize â" in the right circumstances.
Even some skeptics, though, acknowledge that the current dialogue has brought rewards in terms of an end to nuclear and missile testing and reduced tensions.
The question is how long that dialogue process can be sustained, and how it ends â" with a nuclear-free North Korea at peace with its neighbors, with detente and containment of a de facto nuclear-armed state, or with a return to open hostility.
For now, Pompeo may explore how serious North Korea is in its offer to dismantle Yongbyon, and what it wants in return; and then to decide if that represents a sound basis for an other meeting between Trump and Kim, something both leaders appear keen to make happen.
[Kim wants new summit with Trump soon to continue denuclearization]
South Koreaâs presidential Blue House has been forcefully arguing for an end-of-war declaration, and predicts that such a declaration could come after Trump and Kim meet.
A senior Blue House official, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, told reporters Wednesday that Seoul had initially thought that a Trump-Kim summit might happen after the Nov. 6 U.S. midterm elections, but the fact that Pompeo is visiting Pyongyang sooner than expected âsends a positive signalâ that it might take place earlier.
At a campaign rally on Saturday, Trump said he and Kim âfell in love,â adding âhe wrote me beautiful letters.â
Pompeo, on his fifth visit to Pyongyang this year, is expected to meet Kim on Sunday, which experts said would be a positive sign. He begins his trip in Tokyo, and w ill also visit Seoul and Beijing.
âObviously these conversations are going in the right direction, and we feel confident enough to hop on a plane to head there,â State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday.
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