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– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
North Korea Stays in Focus Amid Talk About Next Summits
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This Op-ed originally appeared in InDepthNews, April 19, 2019.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have both said they are willing to meet for a third summit but are looking for certain conditions to be met ahead of any meeting. Kim said the United States must be more flexible and Trump is looking for North Korea to demonstrate its willingness to give up nuclear weapons.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an April 17 interview with Bloomberg that Washington is looking for a “real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons.”

He said Trump would be willing to participate in a third summit if he can get a “real deal,” which Bolton described as a “big deal,” likely referring to a more comprehensive agreement (see below for details).

Kim told the Supreme People’s Assembly April 12 that he is willing to try “one more time,” if Washington proposes a third summit. However, the United States has to have the “right stance” and “methodology,” Kim said, perhaps referring to North Korea’s preference for a step-by-step approach and puts economic sanctions relief on the table early in the process in exchange of actions toward denuclearization. He called for the United States to “lay down unilateral requirements and seek constructive solutions.”

Kim said that the United States is miscalculating if it believes North Korea can be pressured into submission. Kim gave the United States until the end of the year to change its negotiating approach, or the “prospects for solving a problem will be bleak and very dangerous.”

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has also expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. negotiating team and called for the removal of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as its head. In an April 18 statement, Kwon Jong Gun, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of American Affairs, said that “talks will become entangled” if Pompeo is involved in future rounds of negotiations. He called Pompeo “reckless” and said North Korea would prefer a “person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

There are no indications that new talks between Washington and Pyongyang’s negotiating teams are scheduled. The two sides have not met since the abrupt ending of the Hanoi Summit February 28.

North Korea Flight Tests New Tactical Weapon

North Korea announced April 18 that it had test-fired a new tactical guided weapon, in its first publicly reported weapons test since the Hanoi summit. It was not immediately clear what type of weapon the North Koreans fired, but it does not appear to be a longer-range ballistic missile. North Korea voluntarily announced a moratorium on long-range ballistic missile tests in April 2018. The description suggests it could be a short-range missile.

“This move isn't a break in North Korea's self-imposed suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests,” observes Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It's Kim Jong Un's way of demonstrating that his capabilities are more advanced today than they were two summits ago,” she said in a tweet April 17.

Putin-Kim Summit Expected for April

After weeks of speculation that Moscow and Pyongyang were planning a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced April 18 that a meeting will take place in Russia “in the second half of April.” The statement did not indicate where the meeting would take place, but a recent visit by North Korean officials to Vladivostok suggests that it might be a possible venue for the Putin-Kim summit.

U.S. Special Representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun traveled to Moscow April 17-18 to discuss “efforts to advance the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” according to the State Department.

Little Headway at U.S.-South Korean Summit

During South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s visit to the White House April 11, Trump reiterated in comments to press his preference for a “big deal” with North Korea to “get rid of the nuclear weapons but kept the door open for “various small deals that could happen.”

Moon appeared to make little headway toward his reported goal to persuade the United States to put limited economic sanctions relief for North Korea on the table earlier in the negotiations.

Trump said that he would support joint economic projects between the two Koreas at the right time, but that now is not that time. Trump stated that sanctions would “remain in place” until denuclearization is complete, but he would not increase them at this time.

Trump was reportedly open to easing sanctions at the Hanoi summit as long as sanctions relief was reversible, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said March 15. Choe blamed Pompeo and Bolton for thwarting a deal in Hanoi that included sanctions relief.

Moon’s lack of progress in securing sanctions waivers for inter-Korean projects during his meeting with Trump could hamper progress on that process. North Korean state media slammed South Korea in early April for “succumbing to the pressure of the U.S.” on the economic integration of the two Koreas.

“This is an evasion of responsibility to implement the North-South declarations committed in front of the entire nation,” the commentary, by Kim Jun Dal written in the Uriminzokkiri, reads.

Moon met with Trump for less than two hours in Washington April 11. Before meeting with Trump, Moon met with Vice President Mike Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton. Preceding the Trump-Moon summit, Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang met March 29.

Moon is also seeking a fourth summit with Kim. He said April 15 that it was time to “begin the preparations in earnest” for the next meeting. He hopes to hold “detailed and substantive talks on how to achieve further progress that goes beyond the previous two summits between Chairman Kim and President Trump.”

Kim told the Supreme People’s Assembly April 12 that South Korea should not attempt to act as a mediator in U.S.-North Korean negotiations. He said Moon should “subordinate everything to the improvement of North-South ties.”