“Still Possible for U.S.-DPRK Negotiations to Succeed”

I was interviewed by email by Radio Free Asia’s Korean Service on the status of U.S.-DPRK negotiations, as well as on North Korea’s demand that South Korea demolish its tourism facilities in the Kumgang Mountains, and the reported U.S. offer to develop the North’s Wonsan area for tourism.

Here’s the link to the original Korean text. You can use Google Translate to get an idea of the entire content in English, including what other experts said:

미북, 아직 협상 성공 가능성 열어둬” 

And below is what I submitted in full to Radio Free Asia in English last Thursday:

« I don’t see much connection between Kim’s order to demolish South Korea’s Mt. Kumgang facilities in the North and a possible American offer to develop the Wonsan area for tourism. The facilities built by Hyundai after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 have been poorly maintained, if at all, since Hyundai’s departure, and so the order to demolish these structures and build new ones in North Korean-style is primarily a way for Kim to emphasize his new way of self-reliant leadership — one that does not depend on economic assistance from South Korea. While it’s possible President Trump had hinted to Kim at some point that he would like to help develop the Wonsan region for tourism, which is credible, such an offer as part of the recently halted Stockholm negotiations, if indeed made, would not have had appreciable influence upon North Korea. After all, these are negotiations over their nuclear weapons program.

“There are only two months left in the year. As much as President Trump is enmeshed in increasing domestic political problems that may threaten his ability to remain in office or adversely affect his reelection, North Korea is acting understandably to try to jumpstart the U.S.-DPRK negotiations before year’s end. This is less to do with the American election calendar, and more to do with that every January 1, Kim Jong Un gives guidance to the nation for the entire year. If he indeed is going to set a new direction, one which may temporarily rely more on China and Russia, and keep his relations with Trump on hold, without increasing tensions too much, then from the perspective of his continuing leadership, Kim must provide the direction for the party, state and people from the first day of the new year.

“Kim is less affected by the unpredictability of Trump’s domestic situation than by a sense that the United States is an ongoing geopolitical entity, regardless of who is president, with a great deal of continuity in its policy towards the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia. Hence, Kim may very well believe any future changes in American policy will have less to do with the personality of the American leader than with changes in what the North regards as the correlation of forces within Northeast Asia as they affect the DPRK. In other words, Kim may believe that when the time is right, the United States, regardless of who is the leader, may alter its policy towards the North when it suits U.S. interests.

“As much as working level talks should proceed ahead, and arrive at an interim agreement, I believe Kim wishes to have a third official summit with President Trump as soon as possible. This probably has more to do with Kim’s domestic standing, and as a counterbalance against China, than with alleviating the pressures of economic sanctions. This is why Kim and his spokespeople continue to highlight the special relationship between Kim and Trump, and assign blame for lack of progress in relations to bureaucrats. President Trump is not inconsequential to the improvement of U.S.-North Korean relations, but if he were somehow politically incapacitated, had to resign, or did not win reelection, Kim Jong Un would find a way to proceed ahead to bolster his rule and his position in the region, with or without U.S. help. » ♦

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