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It’s called diplomatic give-and-take for a reason.
The United States cannot get some of what it wants without giving North Korea some of what it wants. Yet that is precisely what Washington has been trying to do—and predictably getting nowhere, as President Trump acknowledged by postponing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest mission to Pyongyang. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tried to increase pressure on the North by announcing, “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.” While he clarified that no decision had yet been made, he also noted, “We are going to see how the negotiations go, and then we will calculate the future, how we go forward.”
Washington is insisting that Pyongyang fulfill its commitment at the Singapore Summit to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” without addressing its own commitments at that summit “to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations,” and “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.” Policymakers opposed to negotiations have disclosed intelligence that North Korea is continuing to produce fissile material and missiles, as if it is obliged to stop without any deal.
While the Trump administration demanded that the North move first, reportedly by providing a complete inventory of its nuclear material and production facilities, the North countered with the demand that Washington join South Korea in declaring an end to the Korean War. The declaration would commit to initiating a peace process that would include military confidence building measures to reduce the risk of deadly clashes in the contested waters of the West (Yellow) Sea and the Demilitarized Zone and culminate in a formal peace treaty.
The administration contends that the North wants the peace declaration before taking steps to denuclearize, but as North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told ASEAN foreign ministers in early August,
“We believe that a method involving the balanced, simultaneous, step-by-step implementation of all terms in the Joint Statement, preceded by the establishment of trust, is the only realistic means of achieving success.”
He emphasized the North’s “unswerving resolution and commitment to responsible, good-faith implementation of the Joint Statement,” and the “unacceptability of a situation in which we alone are the first to move unilaterally.”
His statement is just the latest indication that a deal is possible if the United States is prepared to accept a peace declaration.