An unexpected series of threats from the enclosed Stalinist state threatened to nix next month’s planned summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and sink White House hopes of a spectacular foreign policy success.
The warning delivered a jolt of reality, underscoring that despite weeks of positive steps by North Korea and Trump’s gusher of praise for Kim, the process of negotiating with the inscrutable state remains as treacherous as ever.
First, North Korea shocked Washington by lashing out at US-South Korea military drills, saying they could lead to the summit being scrapped. Then in a more ominous development, it warned that if the White House required the dismantling of its nuclear arsenal up front, there was little point in talking.
“If the Trump Administration is genuinely committed to improving NK-US relations and come out to the NK-US summit, they will receive a deserving response,” Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.
“But if they try to push us into the corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider whether we will accept the upcoming NK-US summit.”
The comments appeared to be a direct repudiation of statements by top Trump administration officials that North Korea must accept the total and irrevocable elimination of its nuclear arsenal before it could accept tangible benefits from the US as part of any peace drive.
Kim was clearly signaling he’s not done yet with the classic North Korean strategy of provocations and demands. And the President and supporters might want to put that talk about the Nobel Peace Prize on ice, at least for now.
On the other hand, as strong as they were, Kim’s protests came on paper, and not in the form of missile launches or a nuclear test — a potential sign of progress in that he registered anger but did not take a step that would immediately sink the summit.
The North’s sharp messages came just a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned home from a friendly meeting with Kim with three US prisoners, prompting Trump to stage a middle-of-the-night welcoming ceremony.
It left the White House scrambling to decipher Pyongyang’s motives and analysts handicapping the prospects for the summit.
“I have to say, this is a little bit out of the blue,” said Harry Kazianis, a Korea expert at the Center for the National Interest.
“The North Korean pattern is to do provocations whether it is tests of missiles or nukes, ask for negotiations then string us along for months and years,” he said. “But this time, they are not even getting to that point, they are already causing problems before we have the negotiation.”
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