Elections alter calculus

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Elections alter calculus

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said it will delay a meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol scheduled for Thursday in New York. The rescheduling can hardly be a coincidence because Tuesday was the day when the Democrats took back the House of Representatives after eight years. The remarkable power shift in Congress could cast a dark shadow on North Korean denuclearization talks.

Security experts attached great significance to the meeting as it could offer a breakthrough in the deadlocked nuclear negotiations ahead of a possible second summit next year between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kim allegedly expressed dissatisfaction when he was advised by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to submit a list of nuclear weapons to the United States at the third summit in Pyongyang. North Korea even threatened to return to its pursuit of nuclear development unless international sanctions are eased. Despite our Foreign Ministry’s reassurance that the meeting is not cancelled, we cannot dismiss concerns about the uncertain future of denuclearization.

The Trump-Kim summit in Singapore and the momentum for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang were possible thanks to Trump’s unique approach to the rogue state. The situation has changed now. U.S. citizens judged Trump’s two-year presidency negatively.
With the Democratic Party’s victory in the midterm elections, it will start to flex its muscles on all of Trump’s policies including the Sino-American trade war and U.S. policies regarding Iran. Even if fundamental changes are not the result, the Democrats will certainly scrutinize Trump’s North Korea policy, not to mention put the North Korean human rights issues on the table.

If there is no substantial progress in the denuclearization talks, Trump could shy away from negotiating with North Korea. Uncle Sam must actively engage in denuclearization talks as before.

With the latest developments in the United States’ political landscape, the Moon administration faces daunting challenges. While it was bent on accelerating inter-Korean exchanges by persuading Washington to accept a delay on Pyongyang’s submission of a nuclear list, schisms between the allies have widened. The time has come for the government to seriously reflect on what it has been doing so far vis-à-vis the North.
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