US-North Korea Talks Postponed

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-level North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were supposed to hold meetings today in New York. The White House announced yesterday that the meeting was being postponed until a later date. Today, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha revealed it was Pyongyang that had requested a delay. Sanctions appear to be the reason behind the request. Pyongyang has been pushing for the US and UN sanctions in place against them to be lightened before serious talks on denuclearization progress farther.

The two sides view the future of sanctions quite differently. The Trump administration insists on keeping sanctions in place until a final agreement on denuclearization is reached. The North Koreans, on the other hand, want sanctions to be relaxed at least somewhat. Kim Jong Un is seeking victory of sorts. A sign that can be touted at home and overseas as proof that the US is treating North Korea as an equal and negotiating in good faith. Unfortunately for them, the United States appears unlikely to deliver such a gift at the moment.

It’s unclear when the meeting will take place, or whether it will at all. This delay needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however. Pauses in dialogue, and brief volleys of heated rhetoric have become recurrent events in the US-North Korean relationship. This is simply part of the process and following this latest pause, the talking will resume at some point.

 

Saturday 7 July, 2018 Update: US-North Korea Relations Back to Square One?

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an admirable effort to paint his two days of discussions with North Korean representatives in Pyongyang in the best light possible. He described the talks as ‘productive,’ and stated that progress was made on nearly all of the ‘central issues.’ The North Korean government’s take on the talks was strikingly different. Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official, accused the United States of  presenting a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” that was “deeply regrettable.”

To make a long story short, after Pompeo’s visit, it appears US-North Korean relations may be drifting back to Square One with regards to North Korea denuclearizing.

If this turns out to be the case, the Trump administration is prepared for the contingency. From the moment Kim Jong Un made the first move towards improving relations with South Korea, and eventually the United States, the Trump administration adopted a hope-for-the-best-but-prepare-for-the-worst disposition. The US had little to lose by initiating the talks with North Korea which led to Kim Jong Un and President Trump meeting in Singapore last month. In the buildup to Singapore, the North’s comments and actions nearly derailed the summit. This was a red flag for the US regarding North Korea’s overall agenda, and intentions.

The disappointing outcome of Pompeo’s latest visit to Pyongyang places considerably more pressure on Pyongyang than on Washington. The North’s next move will be scrutinized closely. If it turns out that Kim has not been sincere about his desire to denuclearize, the Trump administration’s revised approach will become more inflexible. There’s little chance of the US relenting on its wish to see North Korea become nuclear-free. Therefore, the only real path for the US will be to tighten the screws on Pyongyang. Stiffer economic sanctions, and ramp up international pressure on North Korea. If that fails to motivate North Korea, other measures, including the use of force to force Kim’s to comply with denuclearization must be considered.

Thursday 24 May, 2018 Update: Trump Cancels US-North Korea Summit Meeting

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The much-anticipated summit meeting scheduled for mid-June between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore has been cancelled. The decision was made by President Trump following recent comments and actions by North Korea indicating that perhaps the North was not turning over a new leaf as many were hoping. Last week Pyongyang canceled scheduled talks with South Korea over joint US-South Korean military exercises going on in the South. Earlier this week, the first cracks became apparent. On Monday, North Korea made comments suggesting a nuclear showdown could occur if talks between the US and North Korea fail.  Twenty-four hours later, Trump indicated there was a chance the planned summit might not take place at the planned time and place. Unknown to many outsiders, and journalists at the time, the president was making reference to North Korea’s failure to attend recent meetings in Singapore to work out planning for the summit. Then came Thursday’s cancellation with Trump citing North Korea’s ‘tremendous anger and open hostility’

What happens next is the great unknown. The cancellation took South Korea by complete surprise. South Korean President Moon Jae-in expended a lion’s share of political capital to make the US-North Korean summit a reality. In politics, of course, perception matters more than reality. Moon has to know his image will take a big hit as the fallout from the cancelled summit settles. Upon learning of Trump’s decision to call the meeting off, the South Korean government expressed complete surprise. Moon called an emergency meeting of his close advisers, and national security team to try and make sense of the US move.

The South Koreans are on the sidelines for the time being, however. The next step in this unfolding drama will depend on Pyongyang and how Kim chooses to respond.

Friday 20 April, 2018 Update: North Korea to End Missile Tests & Close Nuclear Testing Site

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North Korea announced today that it will be officially suspending missile testing, and the nuclear test site where six nuclear tests were conducted in the past will be closed.

“From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report Saturday morning. The announcement comes less than a week before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are scheduled to meet in the first inter-Korean summit to be held in over a decade.

Placing a moratorium on nuclear missile tests, and shutting down the nuclear test site are very likely calculated moves by Pyongyang.  As North Korea basks in the glow of increasing media adoration, the hope probably is that these moves will be viewed as example of how Kim Jong Un and his government’s sincerity towards denuclearization, and its desire to improve relations with South Korea, and ultimately the United States.

This news just broke a short time ago, and as more information becomes available, I will add a more in-depth update Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

 

 

Monday 17 April, 2018 Update: Is An Official End to the Korean War In Sight?

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A formal end to the Korean War could be days away from becoming a reality. There are growing indications that the two Koreas are planning to announce the official end to the conflict. The Korean War ended with a ceasefire. No peace treaty or other statutory permanent agreement followed, meaning the war has been technically raging for  68 years although major combat between UN and North Korean/Chinese forces ended in 1953. A number of skirmishes have taken place between Combined Forces (US & South Korea) and North Korean troops. A number of them occasionally threatened to escalate into a major conflict, such as the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo, and the 1976 murders of two US officers at Panmunjon.

Ahead of next week’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In, officials from both nations appear to be working out the details for announcing the official end to the war shortly before the summit begins. The move would benefit both leaders tremendously. For Moon, bringing about an end to the Korean War would enable him to walk away from the summit with a victory that would play very well with South Koreans. For his North Korean counterpart, it would hopefully send a signal to the world that Kim Jong Un’s softening stance is genuine.

An agreement ending the Korean War would also raise expectations for the planned meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un that’s expected to take place within the next month. Preparations for the meeting have been progressing for some time. Over Easter weekend, current CIA Director and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo allegedly met with Kim Jong Un according to the Washington Post. If true, the meeting confirms that high level Trump administration officials have been in contact with Un concerning plans for the summit, as Trump has indicated in recent days.