U.S. and North still not talking, South stays hopeful

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U.S. and North still not talking, South stays hopeful

North Korea and the United States have yet to hold working-level talks for denuclearization negotiations, despite Seoul officials’ optimism for the resumption of dialogue.

Government sources in Seoul on Monday said that communication between North Korea and the United States is ongoing, but that the two sides have not been able to reach a consensus on a specific location or date for working-level talks.

Kim and Trump in an impromptu meeting at the demilitarized zone on June 30 pledged to resume working-level talks, their first reunion since their failed Feb. 28 summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. There has been movement indicating that discussions for holding working-level talks are finally underway.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made mention of the progress in holding a working-level meeting with the North when speaking to reporters in New York City Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly saying, “We have not been able to make those happen, and we don’t have a date yet when we’ll be able to get together.”

He added, “We hope the phone rings and that we get that call and we get that chance to find a place and a time that work for the North Koreans.”

However, in contrast, Blue House and South Korean government officials last week focused on a more optimistic outlook for the resumption of North-U.S. talks and heightened expectations for a “transformation” in relations with Pyongyang. A senior Blue House official said to reporters last week that South Korea and the United States will be able to “transform relations with North Korea.”

However, some analysts are concerned that Seoul is getting ahead of itself.

Cheon Seong-whun, former president of the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification, said, “We have to show that we have a Plan B in the case negotiations don’t work out well and North Korea does not give up its nuclear weapons, but the South Korean government continues to fixate on a hopeful message.”

Daniel Russel, vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, in an interview with Voice of America on Saturday warned of the dangers of the South Korean government viewing the North through “rose-colored glasses.” He pointed out that Seoul’s intelligence and military authorities need to make accurate assessments of Pyongyang’s movements and actual threats and inform the U.S. government on them.

A civilian source familiar with affairs in Washington likewise said, “There was a strong sentiment in Washington last year that the South Korean government was getting ahead of itself last year by actively calling for sanctions relief and a declaration to end [the 1950-53 Korean War], when North Korea’s intentions to denuclearize had not yet been confirmed.”

Koh Yoo-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University said, “In a situation where it is difficult to leverage our opinion in the North-U.S. talks, it looks like we will take an approach of just doing all that we can.”

BY LEE YU-JUNG, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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