President Trump may have declared diplomatic victory immediately after his cordial June meeting with Kim Jong-un. But ever since the announcement of that summit, experts on North Korea have warned that Kim was very unlikely to give up his nuclear arsenal altogether, since it is his prime source of leverage against the rest of the world.
Now, as the afterglow of the Trump-Kim tete-a-tete wears off the prospect of any kind of easy North Korean solution is looking — unsurprisingly — like a mirage.
On Saturday, in the aftermath of a visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a statement issued by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the U.S. stance on negotiations “regrettable.”
“What the U.S. is requesting is the cancerous demands from previous administrations that blocked all dialogue processes,” the statement read, in the kind of overheated rhetoric that the Kim regime and Trump administration share a fondness for. It also referred to a “dangerous phase that might rattle our willingness for denuclearization that had been firm.”
There had been previous signs that all was not well on the diplomatic front during Pompeo’s trip, which marked the most significant engagement between the countries since the Trump-Kim summit on June 12 in Singapore.
During the second day of his visit, an expected meeting between Pompeo and Kim Jong-un failed to materialize. Instead, Pompeo sat down with Kim Yong-chol, the country’s spy chief, for three hours.
There had also been worrying signs even before the Pompeo trip. Since the June 12 summit, North Korea has worked to upgrade its nuclear facilities, a matter that Pompeo said he had raised in the meetings.
Pompeo also said that there would be a meeting next week about the repatriation of remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War, a key goal for the U.S. In June, President Trump falsely claimed that such repatriation was already in the works.
Despite the obstacles, Pompeo put a positive spin on his visit. “These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues,” Mr. Pompeo said before departing on Saturday. “Some places, a great deal of progress; other places there’s still more work to be done.”
But his attitude was apparently not shared by his North Korean counterparts. And even if North Korea modulates its rhetoric, there is likely to remain a fundamental disconnect between what the United States wants Kim Jong-un to do and what he’s willing to give up.
The danger now is what happens if Trump finds that North Korea isn’t willing to bend to his most unrealistic demands — a likely possibility. In that case, it’s easy to imagine the countries finding themselves in an even more unstable position than where they started.