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Even for a limited nuclear deal, N Korea may settle for nothing less than sanctions relief

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By Josh Smith

A new public broadside by North Korean officials against U.S.-backed sanctions highlights the tough road ahead as negotiators prepare for talks in the wake of last Sunday's meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Media reports out of Washington have suggested the Trump administration may be willing to seek a partial deal to dismantle at least part of North Korea's nuclear program.

But ahead of what would be the first significant talks since Trump and Kim failed to reach a deal at a summit in February in Hanoi, analysts say progress is unlikely unless Washington is prepared to ease some sanctions.

North Korea's exports to China, its main market, dropped nearly 90 percent last year, according to data from Beijing, and a report this week by the Seoul-based Korea Development Institute said sanctions had put the country on a path for economic crisis.

"North Korea wants actions, not words," said Christopher Green, a Korea expert at the International Crisis Group. "I’m not sure the U.S. is mentally ready for it, even now."

After Trump met with Kim at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters a fresh round of negotiations with North Korean foreign ministry diplomats will likely happen "sometime in July".

Pompeo later made clear the United States believed sanctions put in place under U.N. Security Council resolutions needed to remain in place as talks moved forward.

Ahead of February's failed summit in Hanoi, American officials had raised the possibility that while sanctions would remain, they might be willing to take interim steps such as boosting humanitarian aid or opening liaison offices.

U.S. officials, however, rejected North Korea's offer to dismantle its reactor complex at Yongbyon in exchange for wide-ranging sanctions relief.

Since then, North Korea has only doubled down on its calls for sanctions to be withdrawn, signalling that while lesser steps might be welcome, they would not be enough to persuade Pyongyang to give up nuclear assets.

"Our state is not a country that will surrender to the U.S. sanctions," a North Korean foreign ministry official said in a statement last week.

A New York Times report that suggested American officials would settle for a nuclear freeze by North Korea was criticized by national security adviser John Bolton who said the idea had not been discussed at the National Security Council.

The disagreements between officials at the NSC and U.S. State Department over whether to maintain a hard line or take a step-by-step approach are "creating a discordant policy line," Green said.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations on Wednesday criticised the United States as "obsessed with sanctions and pressure campaign" and accused it of being "more and more hell-bent on hostile acts" against Pyongyang.

A report this week by the North Korea Risk Group concluded there is "significant motivation for both sides to seek to reach an agreement," and that Trump and Kim may be more compelled than ever to seek an interim deal.

"This is because a third failure – which cannot be ruled out– would prove deeply problematic for both leaders at this stage," the report said.

But unless the U.S. decides sanctions are on the table, even a smaller deal may be hard to seal, analysts said.

"A freeze on fissile material, nuclear weapons, and missile production at Yongbyon and beyond — when North Korea does not even acknowledge enrichment facilities outside Yongbyon — without some sanctions relief, seems unlikely," said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

If Washington sticks to its stance of no sanctions relief until North Korea gives up the proverbial keys to its nuclear kingdom, then Trump's latest meeting with Kim "may be remembered as the last gasp of a strategy that was predictably doomed," Narang said.

"The idea of a more flexible negotiating position that’s comprehensive in scope but step by step in implementation is welcome, but the scope and sequence of each reciprocal step still has to be realistic," he said.

On the other side, U.S. intelligence officials have said it is unlikely Kim intends to ever give up his entire nuclear arsenal.

To find a compromise, each side may have to drop the ongoing"good cop, bad cop" cycle of engagement and threats, Narang said.

"If we are hoping for a deal, the good cops on both sides will have to sideline their internal bad cops."

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

5 Comments
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NK has been building nukes for 20+ yrs. Why? They've promised to stop, but didn't numerous times. They've broken many agreements, so why should the world believe them this time?

The world wants NK to be open, prosperous, democratic, and for the people to be free to travel and see their families where ever they may be and to host their families from SK.

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@theFu

The US also broke numerous agreements with North Korea so why should they believe the Americans? It's a two-way street but the US simply makes demands without offering any incentives.

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With or without sanctions, the US is determined to topple NK. Iran had an agreement with the US and other nations about not having nuclear weapons and the US withdrew from the agreement and placed more sanctions on Iran; so what is going to be different for NK.

NK needs to maintain its nuclear deterrence program as it is the only way they are going to prevent a repeat of Iraq - a US led invasion. It is not just nuclear weapons that the US want NK to give up but all defence. US foreign policy is to disarm all nations that it cannot control, that will not become subservient to Washington. NK, keep your program and your sovereignty.

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The treaty with Iran that Trump unilaterally abrogated would look great if it were made with NK. Having a man-child in the White House definitely has its downside.

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The aim of Kim Jong-un is to keep his nuclear weapons, have the sanctions lifted and be the dictator of a united Korea. That much has never changed since he became the leader.

His own people have criticized the dictator for meeting Trump on the DMZ. He will be looking at Iran which made a nuclear deal in 2015 and one which Trump signed every 90 days before ending American agreement.

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