North Korea is key to breaking the stalemate

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Image: Yonhap

Efforts to break the stagnation in inter-Korean and US-DPRK relations have continued into June of this year. In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump received a letter from Chairman Kim Jong Un and announced that a third US-DPRK summit was possible, while at Panmunjom Deputy Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department Kim Yo Jong presented a letter offering condolences for the passing of Kim Dae Jung’s wife, Lee Hee Ho, from Kim Jong Un and met with National Security Advisor Chung Eui Yong and others including National Assemblyman Park Ji Won.

In Oslo, Norway, President Moon Jae In announced that he was always ready for another inter-Korean summit, and called on Kim Jong Un to decide on whether to hold another summit before Trump’s visit to South Korea. There have thus been a variety of efforts to restart talks amongst all parties.

Given that Moon said that an “inter-Korean summit” is “physically possible” in June, South Korea appears particularly keen to break the stalemate in June because Trump plans to visit Korea during that month. Park Ji Won told Kim Yo Jong that their meeting should lead to both an “inter-Korean summit and US-DPRK summit,” which suggests that Chung Eui Yong made it clear to Kim Yo Jong that an inter-Korean summit should happen in June.

While things seem to be heading in a positive direction, there is nothing to prove that what we are witnessing has any real substance. This is because we have little idea of what the key player in all this, North Korea, will do.

North Korea has blamed the US for the failure of the Hanoi summit and adheres to the view that the US must make the first move to break the stalemate in negotiations. In short, North Korean leaders are saying they will only denuclearize the Yongbyon nuclear facility. This, however, would mean that North Korea has no intention to denuclearize, so the US has no room to maneuver for an agreement.

That being said, there may be a way to break the stalemate. The US demands not that North Korea dismantle its entire nuclear program at once but rather wants North Korea to show a willingness to dismantle sites outside of Yongbyon. If North Korea shows such a willingness, the stalemate can be broken. Trump is showing a willingness to continue negotiations, so North Korea has the power to restart negotiations.

Even if North Korea were to show a willingness to dismantle sites outside of Yongbyon, there are still many “cards” left for North Korea to use during negotiations with the US. During negotiations, North Korea could wrangle with the US on questions ranging from which sites in the country should be dismantled, how North Korea should handle nuclear materials, nuclear warheads and ICBM missiles, and what kind of process should ensue to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear site. In other words, North Korea is not necessarily faced with a deadend if it accepts the dismantling of sites outside of Yongbyon.

Moon appears determined to break the stalemate in June. Negotiations could begin again if, as Moon hopes, another inter-Korean summit occurs before Trump’s visit to South Korea and Kim Jong Un displays a willingness during that summit to talk about the dismantling of nuclear sites apart from Yongbyon. Of course, there would still be a lot of work to be done even if this were to become a reality.

If North Korea genuinely desires to move back into dialogue mode, its leaders should be focused on showing they are serious about dismantling nuclear sites apart from Yongbyon, instead of focusing on sending letters to Trump. In any case, any move toward dialogue is in the hands of Kim Jong Un.

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.