The last chance

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The last chance

A second North Korea-U.S. summit seems to be inevitable as a top North Korean official kicked off a meeting Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the schedule and agenda. Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, is expected to meet with Trump to deliver a personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after meeting with Pompeo and announce the date and place of the summit after his talks with Trump.

On the same day, Choe Son-hui, vice foreign minister of North Korea, will fly to Stockholm, Sweden, for her first meeting with Steve Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, to discuss details of denuclearization. With the latest developments, security experts observed that Washington and Pyongyang have begun coordinating detailed agendas to denuclearize North Korea on the premise that a second North Korea-U.S. summit is held.

If the summit is held, it can serve as a meaningful step toward the goal of denuclearizing the North. But we need to take a deep breath. Many security analysts expect North Korea to present an incomplete denuclearization proposal — stopping well short of complete denuclearization — in the second summit in return for concessions on an end-of-war declaration and easing of sanctions. It seems that North Korea has found it not so difficult to get what it wants through such a “small deal” with Washington thanks to Trump’s impatience. If that strategy works, it will never have to scrap its nuclear weapons.

North Korea may not be able to get what it wants. In a 2019 Missile Defense Review — released on the same day that Kim visited Washington — the U.S. State Department defined North Korean missiles as a “extraordinary threat” to U.S. security. That represents the Pentagon’s determination to not make any compromises with North Korea.

Moreover, Trump does not enjoy a particularly strong position due to the independent counsel’s investigation of the Russian election interference scandal. Trump may even have to put off his State of the Union address after a Federal government shutdown.

If North Korea wants eased international sanctions while dragging its feet on denuclearization, U.S. Democrats will most likely attack the Trump administration. The clock is ticking. One or two months from now will be a turning point. Demonstrating sincerity toward denuclearization is the only way for North Korea to go.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 19, Page 30
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