[Newsmaker] US-NK announcement delay raises concerns

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : May 8, 2018 - 16:15
  • Updated : May 8, 2018 - 17:55

With the United States and North Korea continuing to keep mum over the date and location of their summit, speculations are rampant over what may be causing the delay in the announcement.

South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Tuesday that it had expected the summit announcement to be made earlier this week. It came days after US President Donald Trump said he had determined the location and date of the summit and would broadcast the news “soon.”

However, the prolonged silence has prompted questions about the cause of the delay -- whether it is due to Trump’s efforts to maximize the dramatic effect of the announcement, or whether significant differences have risen over the denuclearization negotiations.

“I thought it was Trump’ efforts to create his own reality show moments. But over time, I have come to suspect this is not the case,” said Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University.

“I believe there is still a tug of war between the US and North Korean negotiators over the North’s nuclear and missile program. Still, there seems to be significant differences over both parties’ expectations from the summit.” 

US President Donald Trump. Yonhap

In the last few days, Pyongyang and Washington have traded barbs over their upcoming nuclear negotiations. In rare criticism since earlier this year, North Korea on Monday vehemently pushed back against the assertion that US-led sanctions had encouraged it to propose denuclearization, saying such a claim is a “dangerous attempt” to ruin the current dialogue and could bring peace talks “back to square one.”

The Trump administration, for its part, has ratcheted up the pressure against North Korea, urging it to “permanently dismantle” its nuclear arsenal as well as other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons.

“I don’t think it is just a tug of war that we see before a summit,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Department of American Studies at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

“It seems to me that the countries’ officials are trying to work out the differences over the denuclearization process. There is still wide skepticism over the summit in Washington -- except for President Trump,” said Kim, who met with US officials and security scholars in Washington last week.

The Trump administration has maintained that Washington will not engage in serious negotiations with North Korea unless the communist regime takes tangible measures to achieve what Washington sees as complete denuclearization.

During his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in March, North Korean Kim Jong-un struck a different tone by proposing “phased, synchronized” steps toward denuclearization -- the same approach the North insisted on in past negotiations that the Trump administration views as a “failure.”

With a standoff looming over the first meeting between Trump and Kim, some US security scholars warned of the possibility that the summit would bear little fruit -- or even not take place at all.

“I feel like the longer it takes for this summit in terms of the venue and timing to materialize, the more chance that it could be postponed, or fall through.” Victor Cha, a North Korea analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said during a seminar hosted by the CSIS on Monday.

Seoul-based security experts said that while it is unlikely that the US and North Korea would cancel the summit, it is still worrisome that that the two sides might fail to make a significant breakthrough during the high-stakes meeting.

“Regardless of the delays and all the speculations, I think the summit will take place and we will see some agreements. But the problem is how to implement them. If we will see scuffles over the implementation once again, then it would get more dangerous than before,” said Kim from the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

By Yeo Jun-suk (