Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed to North Korea for another meeting with Kim Jong-un on Thursday, amid reports that sanctions will be softened, either by the US or by China. According to a Japanese report on a meeting last week in Beijing between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and China's president Xi Jinping, Kim asked Xi to help end sanctions targeting North Korea. The report quotes Kim as telling Xi: "We are feeling great pain due to economic sanctions. Now that we have concluded the US-North Korea summit in success, I want (China) to work toward early lifting of the sanctions." According to the report, Xi said that he would do his "utmost" to satisfy the request. However, since the June 12 summit meeting between Kim and president Donald Trump, there has been no evidence that North Korea intends to keep its promise to denuclearize. At the same time, there were reports last week, based on satellite imagery, that North Korea has been rapidly building new infrastructure at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, where plutonium for nuclear weapons is produced. AFP (1-July) and Reuters
Since China has always been North Korea's main trading partner, China has had to take responsibility for implementing many of the sanctions. However, there have been reports in recent weeks that China has already partially weakened its own enforcement of the sanctions.
Some analysts are claiming that Trump has already given up a lot by agreeing to cancel the joint military drills with South Korea, without getting anything in the return from the North.
The State Dept. on Thursday denied it has softened its approach to North Korea denuclearization. According to State Department spokesman Heather Nauert:
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our policy toward North Korea has not changed.
We are committed to a denuclearized North Korea and Secretary Pompeo looks forward to continuing his consultations with North Korean leaders to follow up on the commitments made at the Singapore summit."
Many people, including myself, are skeptical that Kim Jong-un has any intention at all of denuclearizing. The purpose of Pompeo's current trip is to get some specific commitments. According to Pompeo, "On this trip I’m seeking to fill in some details on those commitments and continue the momentum toward implementation of what the two leaders promised each other and the world." 38 North (26-June) and Joongang Daily (Seoul)
# Pompeo's visit will test Trump's negotiating strategy.
The reality of the situation is that the negotiations could break down very quickly, and we could very quickly be as close to war as we were in January, before Kim Jong-un's charm offensive at the Seoul Olympics.
As I've said in the past, in my opinion the North Koreans have had one and only one objective: Use diplomacy to force the Trump administration to lift the sanctions, while continuing nuclear weapons and missile development.
North Korea is said to be asking for "staged denuclearization." This means that North Korea and the US alternate in making concessions on a step by step basis, with the US removing each sanction in return for North Korea taking a denuclearization step.
If this is Kim's strategy, it doesn't seem that he's following it. The satellite imagery that shows infrastructure development at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility cannot be a surprise to Kim. The North would have been aware that the infrastructure changes would be detected by satellite imagery, and it's therefore reasonably to conclude that Kim wanted this development to be made public, perhaps as a warning to the US that unless concessions are made rapidly, the North will continue developing nuclear weapons. Korea Times
According to reports, Pompeo is going to press Kim to provide a complete list of all nuclear and ballistic missile production sites, and a timetable for shutting them down. If, as expected, Kim refuses to produce such a list, then there might be a major confrontation, or they may kick the can down the road to a later meeting.
Trump said on Thursday,
"I really believe that he sees a different future for North Korea. I hope that’s true. If that’s not true, we’ll go back to the other way."
In other words, the North Korean situation could blow up into a full "crisis" again for the first time in months. The real disaster would be if Trump gives in and reduces sanctions, getting nothing in return.... Channel News Asia