South Korean presidential security advisor Chung Eui-yong and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa started coordinating South Korea-U.S. policies in the United States last week. Chung met with his counterpart John Bolton in Washington D.C. and suggested ways to resume talks between the United States and North Korea. Meanwhile in New York, Kang and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed the U.N. Security Council members that raising a united voice on North Korea issues such as maintaining sanctions to denuclearize the country was pivotal.
Chung and Kang’s visit to the United States is a part of the efforts to resume denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang, but breaking the deadlock seems difficult. Since the June 12 summit in Singapore and Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang, the official talks between the two countries have halted. Only the United Nations command and North Korean army are still communicating for repatriation of the remains of the U.S. soldiers. Some even suspect that the current talks are only for a show.
According to foreign affairs sources, Pompeo had three demands - a list of nuclear weapons to destroy, denuclearization timeline and shutdown of missile test site - when he met vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea Kim Yong Chol on his third visit to Pyongyang. But the North reportedly demanded to declare the end of war, saying that safety should be guaranteed first. The Washington Post reported that U.S. President Donald Trump, who said everything was going well, was furious about that fact that there has been no progress in the follow-up negotiations.
In the meantime, North Korea has been criticizing South Korea every day. The Rodong Sinmun has been criticizing the South Korean government, asserting that the South was drifting towards an economic crisis and ruin. This seems to be a response to the Bank of Korea’s announcement that revised down North Korea’s economic growth of last year to minus 3.5 percent and the Moon Jae-in administration that did not accelerate inter-Korean exchanges. This would also be a request to Seoul to persuade Washington to take softer stance, which Pyongyang always does every time it reaches a deadlock in negotiations.
South Korea’s diplomacy could be effective in finding a breakthrough in this stalemate. But it should not lead to acceleration of inter-Korean relations and ease of sanctions against the North. The negotiation between Washington and Pyongyang is about denuclearization and security, and not about easing sanctions. The sanctions have been unanimously resolved by the global community as the only mean to put pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. An agreement of the global community, which could come after denuclearization, is a prerequisite to lift the sanctions.