U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang to get Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons. He left with a harsh reminder that the North Korean leader expects something in return.
The next line of the more than 1,200-word statement may have captured the central complaint: “The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war,” an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman said.
The statement shows that Kim is willing to test Trump’s patience and not bargain away his arsenal without sufficient security guarantees. The regime’s belief that the weapons are needed to deter a U.S. attack dates back nearly 70 years to the still-unresolved Korean War, and will take more than a handshake to dispel.
“The president and high-ranking officials have been talking about this very quick timeline and are focused on the nuclear issue only, and not on the broader situation,” said Eric Gomez, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington. “Realistically, the only way you get to a denuclearized North Korea is if it has a better relationship with the United States.”
Trump has already faced criticism for being too quick to make security concessions to Kim, including his unilateral suspension of military exercises with South Korea. The North Korean statement indicated such gestures hadn’t gone far enough, saying the U.S. moves were “highly reversible” and left its military force intact “without scraping even a rifle.”
The statement included a personal appeal to the U.S. president: “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump,” it said.
“Their statement is typical North Korean negotiating style,” Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, said in an email. “The administration should press on with talks and expect more stumbling blocks along the way, but it must be careful that nuclear talks aren’t held hostage to peace talks.”
In Tokyo on Sunday, Pompeo rejected the suggestion the two sides were far apart, describing North Korean officials as more receptive to U.S. demands behind closed doors. “When we spoke to them about the scope of denuclearization, they did not push back,” he said.
It remains to be seen what the dispute means for a diplomatic effort that Trump has credited with helping to advert a nuclear war. The countries did agree this weekend to set up a working group to iron out further disagreements and to meet Thursday to discuss recovering the remains of U.S. military personnel killed during the Korean War.
“Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign has been completely neutralized by a Kim’s maximum-engagement strategy,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo. “This will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to have a united front.”