To Restart North Korea Talks: Return to Singapore

(Photo: Rodong Sinmun)

A year has passed since the first-ever US-DPRK summit in Singapore and US President Donald Trump still wants a third get-together with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. If so, negotiations will need to resume soon. That will require Washington to tell Pyongyang directly that it is ready to get over the Hanoi Summit, where it asked for too much, and go back to the commitments to end enmity that it made in Singapore.

There were three such commitments: “to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations,” “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” and “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The North also pledged to unearth the remains of Americans missing in action, which could help put the Korean War to rest—and not just for those most intimately affected.

In an April 12 address to his Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Jong Un made it clear that moving to end enmity and improve the North’s security, more than easing sanctions, are essential for him to resume negotiations: “[I]t will be hard to expect any progress” without “a fundamental liquidation” of the “hostile policy of the U.S….”

He called the Singapore joint statement “a landmark in establishing the new DPRK-U.S. relations,” but cited “open hostile moves running counter to” that statement, specifically, “the U.S. recent test simulating the interception of [an] ICBM from the DPRK and the resumption of the military exercises whose suspension was directly committed to by the U.S. president.”

He went on,

Now the U.S. is strongly suggesting it’s thinking of holding the 3rd DPRK-U.S. summit talks and the settlement of the issue through dialogue. Yet it is still shunning the withdrawal of its hostile policy, the fundamental way of establishing the new DPRK-U.S. relations, and miscalculating that it can bring us to our knees if it puts maximum pressure on us.

He dismissed the US negotiating position at Hanoi as “absolutely impracticable,” noting that “it is necessary for both sides not to table their unilateral demands but find out a constructive solution to meeting each other’s interests.” If that change in stance is “shared with us,” he is prepared to resume talks,” but he warned that he would not hold his fire for long: “[W]e will wait for a bold decision from the U.S. until the end of this year.”[1]

Yet Washington was not alone in overreaching in Hanoi. So did Pyongyang. In the months preceding Hanoi, the two sides had begun sketching out the makings of a limited first-stage deal. In talks in Pyongyang in October 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had put an end-of-war declaration on the table, Kim Jong Un offered “the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities…‘and more, ’” according to US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun.

It has already accepted three of Kim’s desires, a downsizing of large-scale exercises on the peninsula, an end-of-war declaration, and an exchange of liaison offices as a step to full diplomatic normalization.

Where it came up short was on sanctions relief. Washington has allowed some exemptions from UN Security Council sanctions for the resumption of humanitarian aid delivery. It is also prepared to relax some US sanctions, or as Biegun phrased it at Stanford, “We didn’t say we won’t do anything until you do everything.”

If Pyongyang is willing to shut down not only Yongbyon, but also its second enrichment site and allow inspectors to witness that, and commit to dismantlement after inspectors take measurements of production there, Washington will have to offer more relief in return, like exempt the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex from Security Council sanctions, increase the UN quota for oil imports by North Korea, allow some textile exports, and end US sanctions originally imposed by the Trading with the Enemy Act and eased twice before.

Replying to Kim Jong Un’s latest letter to President Trump provides an opportunity to tell him what he wants to hear, that Washington has moved past Hanoi and back to Singapore.

  1. [1]

    “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Makes Policy Speech at First Session of 14th SPA,” KCNA, April 13, 2019.

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