Time Has Almost Run Out With North Korea
Low-level talks with North Korea have apparently gone nowhere, and North Korea claims that the U.S. still hasn’t changed its approach to the negotiations:
North Korea slammed the U.S. for lacking political will after just-revived disarmament talks fizzled out Saturday, accusing Washington of misleading the public by calling the talks productive and for suggesting the two sides could meet again this month.
Pyongyang reiterated a warning to Washington to adopt a new negotiating stance by year’s end, state-media reported on Sunday [bold mine-DL]. If the U.S. sticks with the same approach, relations between the two countries “may immediately come to an end,” according to a statement attributed to an unnamed foreign-ministry spokesperson.
“We have no intention to hold such sickening negotiations as what happened this time before the U.S. takes a substantial step,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
North Korean officials and state media have repeatedly stressed the end of this year as a deadline for a change in how the Trump administration approaches the negotiations, and the administration has so far failed to take that deadline seriously. They have made it fairly clear that they don’t intend to participate in this process indefinitely, and they are expecting to see some kind of compromise position from the administration very soon. If that doesn’t happen, we should expect the North Korean government to end its self-imposed moratorium on its most provocative tests. At that point, the window for pursuing even a modest arms control agreement will be closed. It has been more than seven months since the failed Hanoi summit, and in all that time the administration appears to have been paying no attention to what North Korea has said or done.
Whatever “creative ideas” that the U.S. proposed at the working-level talks this weekend, it seems hard to dispute that the North Koreans found them inadequate. The main problem is that the U.S. is still demanding something that North Korea will never give up, and it is offering no real incentive for North Korea to make any concessions. Unless that imbalance is addressed and fixed immediately, negotiations with North Korea would appear to be as good as dead. If there was some hope that North Korea policy might become more flexible and reasonable following Bolton’s departure, it seems that this hope was misplaced. The fantasy of disarmament is killing any chance of successfully concluding any agreement.