WASHINGTON – Even as conciliatory rhetoric revives U.S.-North Korea summit schedule, President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and are still with the gaping disconnect about what a deal on North Korea’s nuclear weapons would look like.
Observers of the soap-opera-style Trump-Kim-top drama that played this week could be forgiven for thinking that a vulnerable courtship is underway, where the tenor of each part of the financial statements will determine whether the two can agree to sit down.
But it is at the root of the North, the recent barrage of negative rhetoric that prompted Trump to cancel the summit is a fundamental difference of opinion about the path to denuclearization. The reconciliation of these views can determine not only the success of a future meeting, but whether or not a top is in fact feasible.
“You could look at this as trash talk in anticipation of the big game,” said Christopher Hill, the lead AMERICAN negotiator with North Korea under George W. Bush. “To be honest, I think it’s more serious.”
Trump’s letter to Kim on Thursday blamed “enormous anger and open hostility” by Pyongyang for the derail of the 12 June meeting in Singapore. Trump changed his mind after the North Korean Vice-Minister of Foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan did not respond to more threats, but qualified praise of the president and the openness for a conversation. Trump said Friday that the two parties were talking about putting the top back on the rails, not on the originally scheduled date.
So unfolded a stormy 24 hours that left close U.S. ally and top matchmaker South Korea “stunned”; North Korea’s traditional ally China, outraged that Trump was to blame for the change of Kim’s hardening attitude; and civil servants Asset in its own management effort to remain up to speed with developments.
But in the midst of the whirlwind of speculation about whether Trump and Kim would have a date with the history or not, North Korea’s fundamental position had not changed, even as the show was. Kim Kye Gwan explained that the North is the branding of the Vice-President Mike Pence as a “political dummy’ and the warning of a possible nuclear confrontation were a response to the “unrestricted notes” by the U.S. side to unilaterally scrap its atomic program.
For North Korea watchers, it was a diplomatic blow-up that had been waiting to happen since Trump impulsively agreed in March to a meeting with Kim to persuade him to leave weapons that are increasingly a threat to the united states
“The enormous gap between the United States and North Korea on denuclearization, is the unspoken undertone of everything that just happened,” said Evans Revere, a former senior Ministry of foreign affairs for East Asia, who since leaving the U.S. government has regularly held informal talks with North Korean officials.
“It speaks to the fact that the North Koreans were not willing to come and give all their weapons for promises,” said Hill, ” and that the US was not prepared to offer any sanctions relief for nothing until everything was ready.”
That was a theme, and Kim Kye Gwan, a veteran of the North Korean nuclear negotiator, had expressed in starker terms a week ago, when he lashed out at Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton for saying that the disarmament of Libya in 2004 was a model for a possible deal with North Korea. For Pyongyang, that was a particularly provocative comparison for two reasons. First, Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi was killed following U.S.-backed military action in his country seven years after the giving of its nuclear program. Secondly, Libya had surrendered his young program — much less advanced than North Korea’s prior to the receipt of any benefits.
North Korea is looking for a different kind of deal. Frank Aum, a former senior adviser to the Pentagon on North Korea, said it wants to be a phased process, where each party takes the “progressive and synchronous” steps towards denuclearisation and peace. The North has for decades, the construction of a nuclear and missile capability to deter the U.S., and the Aum remains skeptical that it is really interested in giving these weapons though see the value in going down that path to see what benefits it could get.
For the Trump administration, a phased process would replicate past failed aid-for-disarmament busy with North Korea, although Trump himself this week, he canceled the summit not to exclude an incremental approach is that the incentives along the way to the North. He said Kim would get security guarantees if he denuclearizes.
That suggests that the flexibility of the side of Trump, who has vacillated between threats and flattery in his long-distance courtship of Kim, and is clearly eager for his shot to be the first AMERICAN leader to meet with his North Korean counterpart, and even to bring peace in the shared Korean Peninsula.
Revere said: what is needed now is what should have happened in the first place for Trump impulsively agreed to the summit — an attempt of the officials to try and bridge the huge gap between the two parties. It is a wave that doesn’t seem to have limited, in spite of two, rare trips to Pyongyang by Secretary of state Mike Pompeo to meet with Kim.
For Trump to go on a meeting with Kim ” without any idea of what you’re coming out,” said Hill, “to be honest, is worse than having no top.”
Associated Press video journalist P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this.