The scintilla of hope that might have been raised at the Trump-Kim summit on 12 June has been virtually dashed in less than a month. Kim Jong-un has distinctly precipitated another bout of tension during the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang.
There is little doubt that the North Korean President has utilised the opportunity to think aloud ~ a diplomatic gambit that he had courteously avoided at the high table in Singapore. On home turf, Kim’s government has not indulged in the niceties of bilateral interaction.
It has accused the Trump administration of “pushing a unilateral, gangster-like demand for denuclearisation”. Strong words from the presidential palace. The stand is directly at odds with Mr Pompeo’s certification of the talks in Pyongyang as “productive”.
Geopolitics gets murkier still, and the mood-swing reaffirms that the Trump-Kim agreement was perhaps inadequate, almost perfunctory. It now seems clear that North Korea is a harder nut to crack than envisaged. There can be no halfway-house between harsh talk and an essay towards conciliation.
Ergo, the North Korean foreign minister’s contention that the country’s “leader still wanted to build on the friendly relationship and trust forged at the summit” runs counter to the official stand. Pompeo and his entourage have little or no evidence to show that they have returned with any tangible assurance that North Korea was willing to surrender its nuclear and missile programmes.
Fundamentally, therefore, there has been no change in Pyongyang’s stance. Pompeo’s description of his meetings as “productive” is not borne out by the trend of the discussions. Decidedly less upbeat has been the reaction of the North Korean foreign ministry ~ “The attitude and demands from the US side during the high-level talks were nothing short of deeply regrettable”. Indeed, “working level” US officials have been accused of trying to destroy the agreement reached in Singapore.
More accurately, the Secretary of State has not been able to achieve the primary purpose of his visit to North Korea, seemingly a follow-through of the summit. He received no indication that the North would match its “vague commitment” to denuclearisation ~ the central point of the Trump-Kim meeting ~ with some kind of action. Far from it.
In reality, the bluster has only intensified. Among Pompeo’s priorities were a declaration of weapons sites, a timeline of deconstruction efforts, and a written undertaking that the North’s definition of denuclearisation was not dissimilar to that of the US.
The North has iterated that “phased, simultaneous actions were the quickest way of realising the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. The US is reported to have baulked at the proposal for declaring an end to the war, which North Korea insists is a crucial first step towards building trust. Regretfully, the joust has been resumed across the Atlantic.