Need to keep a cool headU.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned empty-handed from a two-day visit to Pyongyang on a mission to initiate the denuclearization process and other agreed agenda from the June 12 summit between leaders of the two countries in Singapore. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not spare a moment for the visitor, unlike his previous two visits to Pyongyang, where he received a hearty welcome from Kim. His marathon talks with his counterpart Kim Yong-chol seemingly produced little. The only thing they agreed on was to form a working group to discuss the denuclearization process.
As soon as Pompeo left, Pyongyang turned critical and accused Washington of making “unilateral and gangster-like demands” on denuclearization. The foreign ministry claimed the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) was a “gangster-like” concept and criticized Seoul and Washington for showing less effort for peace, insisting that their suspension of joint military exercises could hardly match its blowup of a nuclear test site. The CVID concept has been maintained by the international community in the UN resolutions issued over 10 times since North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006. Calling the demand “gangster-like” is a declaration to the international community that it is not ready to part with nuclear weapons.
North Korea must face the music. The dialogue momentum was achieved after Pyongyang offered to go completely nuclear-free in order to escape from the painful international sanctions. A month after the vaguely worded pledge, Pyongyang has not made any action towards it. Kim instead flew to China and gained confidence from Beijing. These moves raise suspicions about Pyongyang trying to put off the dismantling process as far as possible. Hawks and skeptics will gain ground now that Pompeo has gotten little concession or promise from Pyongyang in his latest visit. Does Pyongyang really want to throw everything away and go back to the painful days of isolation and threats of war?
Seoul and Washington must take further steps with a cool head. They should not rush to waste the momentum. At the same time, they must not hold onto naïve expectations. While keeping up dialogues, they must not ease sanctions and continue to pressure Pyongyang to come up with a plausible timetable and inspection methodology. If Pyongyang tries any tricks, the two governments must renew joint military exercises and ensure Beijing remains firm on the sanctions front. The rightful mix of carrots and sticks must ensure Pyongyang stays on the denuclearization path.