US President Donald Trump welcomed the ‘progress being made in talks with North Korea’ even as the South Korean government stated Pyongyang was willing to discuss denuclearisation.
‘For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned,’ Trump tweeted on Tuesday. ‘The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!’
The thaw began on January 1, when Kim Jong-un signalled his readiness for talks with the US and the South.
As this blog then noted, the North then agreed to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang along with a delegation of envoys. Kim Jong-un’s sister and confidant, Kim Yo-jong, attended the opening ceremony. One of the men Pyongyang sent as part of the delegation to the closing ceremony is believed to be responsible for a 2010 torpedo attack on a South Korean corvette that killed 46. Despite the apparent insult, the South agreed to bear the expenses for the North’s participation in the games.
On Monday, a delegation of 10 South Korean officials attended a dinner hosted by Kim Jong-un along with his sister and wife, Ri Sol-ju. They held further meetings in Pyongyang on Tuesday before heading back to Seoul.
A South Korean press release then detailed the outcomes of the trip, including Pyongyang supposed willingness to give up its nuclear weapons. ‘The North expressed readiness to have candid talks with the United States to discuss the issue of denuclearization and normalization of US-DPRK relations.’
The release added that ‘if military threats against the North are resolved and the security of its system is guaranteed, it has no reason to possess nuclear weapons.’
The North also said it will not ‘resume strategic provocations, such as additional nuclear or ballistic missile tests,’ according to the release. Pyongyang also reiterated its pledge not to ‘use its nuclear or conventional weapons against the South.’
Besides these pledges, the two sides agreed to ‘hold the third North-South summit at Panmunjeom at the end of April and agreed to hold working level meetings for this purpose.’
They will also set up a hotline ‘to ease military tension and for close consultation’. The two sides are to make the first call before the April summit.
What they’ll talk about
North Korea is not going to denuclearize. The statements about giving up its readiness to give up its nukes are meant to ease the path to talks since the US has insisted on it as a precondition. For Pyongyang, the short-term goal is probably sanctions relief in return for some good behaviour. The more ambitious goal appears to be a ‘freeze-for-freeze’: The US and South Korea would end their joint military exercises in return for North Korea stopping its missile and nuclear weapons tests. The proposal is backed by both China and Russia, but the US has consistently rejected it because it trades a hard-to-reverse concession that would severely harm the US-South Korea alliance for an easily reversible North Korean commitment of limited consequence.
While the scope of the April summit is likely to be limited, any future talks that include the US would also probably cover issues like curbing North Korean sales of nuclear and missile-related technology to other countries and opening up more lines of communication to deal with crises.