See More on Facebook

Diplomacy

Trump’s race against time, lack of bargaining chips in denuclearization talks

Trump approaches second Kim summit with precious little to bargain with.


Written by

Updated: December 5, 2018

As US President Donald Trump eyes a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a breakthrough in stalled denuclearization talks early next year, Washington faces its own dilemma stemming from a lack of bargaining chips.

Time may also not be on Trump’s side, with reported cases of sanctions being eased, intelligence reports pointing to North Korea’s continued work on nuclear and missile programs, and a fast-approaching 2020 presidential election.

North Korea has called on the US to take “corresponding measures” — which appear to include sanctions relief — as a sign of mutual trust before taking further denuclearization steps.

Washington, however, has been reluctant to give away its most powerful bargaining chip — sanctions — and has demanded Pyongyang take more irreversible measures to dismantle its nuclear weapons, which has left the countries in a diplomatic standoff.

“The US has not many bargaining chips other than sanctions, after it lost some of its leverage by halting the joint military exercises between South Korea and the US,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser and nuclear envoy in the six-party talks in the 2000s.

The United Nations Security Council passed a series of sanctions resolutions, which greatly restricts the North’s international trade, to punish North Korea for its tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

“Without sanctions, the US only has a military option left. That is Washington’s dilemma.”

Trump suspended South Korea-US joint military exercises, which he has called “expensive,” after the Singapore summit with Kim. The North views the drills as rehearsals for invasion, though the allies have said they are defensive in nature.

Chun said North Korea will likely demand a reward for every step it takes — from dismantling its major Yongbyon nuclear compound to a verification for that — a typical negotiating tactic of North Korea called the “salami tactic.”

“North Korea’s plan is that it is using all the cards it doesn’t need and offering to trade them with the only cards held by the US,” he said.

Once multilayered sanctions begin to be eased, however, the international sanctions regime in itself would likely lose momentum, and the US would end up with less leverage to motivate the North to further denuclearize.

“Even though sanctions remain in place, implementation has loosened considerably, and China and Russia are open to allowing North Korea (to) reap some benefits even under the current regime,” said Ankit Panda, a North Korea analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

 

Time running out for Trump

The year 2020 is crucial for both Kim, who hopes to make progress in time for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party, and Trump, who needs to claim a victory in nuclear diplomacy ahead of the presidential election.

Trump has said he is in “no rush” to finalize a deal with North Korea and remove sanctions against it, but time appears to be on North Korea’s side, according to Harry J. Kazianis, director of Defense Studies, Center for the National Interest.

“Kim Jong-un, by most accounts, is in his mid-30s and wants to live a very long life. We must remember his time horizons are decades not just three to six years like the Moon and Trump administrations,” he said.

“If Kim does not test any missiles or nuclear weapons, he has the advantage of being able to wait out any current US or South Korean leaders that offer terms he feels he can’t live with, or, he can always ally with Russia or China until terms with America and South Korea warm to his liking.”

The Democrat-controlled House is expected to slow the pace of Trump’s nuclear diplomacy to some extent by keeping his administration’s engagement with the North under tighter scrutiny.

For Trump, however, a win or a diplomatic breakthrough would be personally important to him before running for re-election in 2020, given his domestic problems, Kazianis said.

“Kim has likely concluded that Trump is the least hawkish person in his own administration — and has the most to win or lose — so they want to likely deal with him for the most part,” he said.

For a better deal, Kim appears to prefer to talk to Trump face-to-face.

North Korea has not responded to the US’ offer of working-level talks to discuss the substance of denuclearization since their Singapore summit in June when Kim committed to work toward complete denuclearization.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, echoed the view.

“The regime prefers dealing with President Trump, who it sees as more likely to offer concessions as he did in Singapore,” he said.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Korea Herald
About the Author: The Korea Herald is the nation’s largest English-language daily and the country’s sole member of the Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy

‘History will take note of those who ridiculed removal of Article 370’: PM Modi in Maharashtra

PM Modi also expressed confidence that the BJP will break all victory records in the October 21 Maharashtra Assembly elections. Prime Minister on Thursday once again lashed out at the opposition saying that history will take note of those who mocked the abrogation of Article 370, that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. “Whenever Article 370 will be discussed in history, — the decision that was taken in the interest of the country — the people who opposed and ridiculed will be remembered,” PM Modi said while addressing a poll rally in Maharashtra’s Parli. He said the next week’s state Assembly elections were a battle between BJP’s “karyashakti” (power of development) and opposition’s “swarth shakti” (selfishness). Further targeting the Congress and NCP leaders, he wondered if “frustrated and dejected” people could do anything good for people. “A Congress


By The Statesman
October 18, 2019

Diplomacy

Malaysia’s PM Mahathir says rail line RTS linking Johor Baru to Singapore to proceed

The rail line has been on again and off again. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (Oct 17) said Malaysia will proceed with the 4km Johor Baru to Singapore rail line. His comments about the Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail link followed that of Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke on Tuesday that details of the project will be decided by the Malaysian Cabinet within two weeks. Tun Dr Mahathir said when asked by reporters on Thursday: “We will proceed with the RTS but we will take some time.” Asked if this meant the Malaysian government had resolved 


By The Straits Times
October 18, 2019

Diplomacy

S. Korean, ASEAN officials look ahead to special summit and stronger regional ties

Korea has increasingly look to Southeast Asia as an export destination and regional partners. Ahead of the highly anticipated summit in Busan next month between the leaders of South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, top officials from participating countries gathered in the southern port city Wednesday and voiced high expectations for the future of the relationship between South Korea and the ASEAN nations. South Korean Ambassador to ASEAN Lim Sung-nam, ASEAN-Korea Center Secretary-General Lee Hyuk, Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don and Myanmar Ambassador to South Korea U Thant Sin said they looked forward to the upcoming summit, calling it a steppingstone to stronger South Korea-ASEAN ties and to economic prosperity and peace on the Korean Peninsula. “In the past 30 years, the relationship between South Korea and ASEAN has grown to an astonishing degree. Trade volume rose 20-fold and human e


By The Korea Herald
October 18, 2019

Diplomacy

We will never abandon people of occupied Kashmir, says Army chief during LoC visit

The army chief said that the Pakistan army will fulfil its role no matter the cost. Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa while visiting troops stationed along the Line of Control (LoC) on Wednesday vowed “to never leave Kashmiris alone” in their fight against Indian oppression. “Kashmiris in IOJ&K are bravely facing Indian atrocities under continued siege. We shall never leave them alone and play our rightful role at whatever cost”, said Gen Bajwa. Gen Bajwa’s remarks followed a briefing of the “deliberate targeting of civilians” by Indian troops and the response by Pakistan’s armed forces. A day earlier, at least three civilians died and eight others were injured in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after Indian troops resorted to “indiscri


By Dawn
October 17, 2019

Diplomacy

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam unveils measures to ease housing crunch

Lam was forced to deliver speech via video after protests. Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced measures aimed at easing a housing shortage on Wednesday (Oct 16) as she battles to restore confidence in her administration and address widespread discontent after four months of mostly violent anti-government protests. Mrs Lam was forced to deliver her speech via video after her annual policy address in the Legislative Council was aborted when some lawmakers repeatedly jeered and shouted at her as she began speaking. After aborting her speech in the chamber tw


By The Straits Times
October 17, 2019

Diplomacy

Singapore’s 4G leadership lays out plans to take relationship with China ‘to a higher level’

The two countries share a close relationship. Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership has a comprehensive plan for engaging with China economically and plugging into the East Asian giant’s rapid development. Ten members of the “4G” cohort drove home this point as they spoke with Singapore media at the end of a bilateral meeting in Chongqing on Tuesday (Oct 15) that was of particular significance, as the Singapore team was composed fully of this new generation of political leaders. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat led the Singapore delegation as he co-chaired the 15th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest-level bilateral platform between Singapore and China. Mr Heng, who took over the reins from former DPM Teo Chee Hean earlier this year, said his first meeting in the new role was forward-looking and productive, and that he took the opportunity to “


By The Straits Times
October 16, 2019