The US has sent North Korea a message in a bid to calm the current turbulence on the way to their planned summit, following recent tough rhetoric from Pyongyang.
Shortly before his summit with South Korea at the White House on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility of postponing or canceling his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore if certain conditions were not met.
It is the first time that Trump indicated the possibility that the summit may be derailed depending on whether conditions are met.
Though he did not specify the conditions, the US has persistently demanded complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
His remark seems to be meant to show that he would not buckle under the North’s recent threat to reconsider the summit and that he would cancel it if Kim is not committed to scrapping his country’s nuclear programs.
In a nutshell, his words are an offer and a message of pressure on the North: Accept the conditions or the summit can be canceled (or postponed depending on working-level planning if they are accepted.)
However, it is noteworthy that this leaves an impression that Trump does want the summit to happen but on a condition that Kim accepts US demands.
As for how to denuclearize the North, Trump showed a somewhat flexible position.
“It would certainly be better if it were all in one,” Trump said, “You know you do have some physical reasons that it may not be able to do exactly that.”
This remark seems to show Trump accepted the inevitability of a stage-by-stage implementation, but it should be understood to mean that the US will not accept North Korea’s offer for a “phased and simultaneous” approach which can slow the denuclearization, and that its nuclear arsenal should be dismantled in the shortest possible time.
By showing flexibility in the existing all-in-one denuclearizing position, Trump effectively urges Kim to show a proactive attitude toward the denuclearization.
It is worth noting that Trump attributed Pyongyang’s hardened line against its nuclear disarmament last week to a trip Kim made to China to meet Xi Jinping on May 8.
“There was a very difficult attitude by the North Korean folks after that meeting ... so I can’t say I’m happy about it,” Trump said, describing Xi as a “world-class poker player.”
Probably the North tried to get closer to Beijing to check the US which has kept up pressure on it, but if a US-China rivalry for hegemony interferes with the US-North Korea summit, the denuclearization issue will likely become complicated or derailed. Pyongyang must bear this in mind this if it wants a successful summit with Washington.
The road to the US-North Korea summit less than three weeks away will be rough.
Both sides still have mutual suspicions. There is a substantial chance that the summit will not happen at all or be postponed. Even if the summit happens, there is no guarantee of its success for now. Doubt and skepticism are reportedly growing within the Trump administration over Kim’s commitment to get rid of all nuclear weapons of his country.
Moon said his summit with Trump went well, but there is still a gap between the US and the North over key issues such as how to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs and compensate for the denuclearization. Moon needs to do more to persuade the two sides.
Now that he has had a summit with Trump, Moon must double down on Kim. He needs to call Kim using the hot line and convey Trump’s intentions correctly. Until the planned summit, he must play a catalyst role toward the quickest possible denuclearization.
North Korea must resume a high-level inter-Korean talk it postponed indefinitely and unilaterally, as soon as a Korea-US Max Thunder military exercise ends on May 25.
It was a positive sign in light of restoring South-North relations that Pyongyang belatedly allowed South Korean journalists to cover the demolition of Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the North. But the North must stop throwing tantrums at the South if it hopes to improve their relations.
Above all, it must keep in mind that if it does not keep its denuclearization pledge, a future no one wants will unfurl.