Ministerial talks between North Korea and the United States did not happen after all at the ASEAN Regional Forum, which closed in Singapore on Saturday, because Pyongyang rejected. Washington has further strengthened its pressure on Pyongyang by announcing new measures of sanctions, saying that sanctions cannot be eased without Pyongyang’s denuclearization. The South Korean government’s bid to start diplomacy of arbitration to end the diplomatic stalemate between Pyongyang and Washington has ended unsuccessfully.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho rejected talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the end despite having meetings with foreign ministers of 11 countries at the ARF. The ministers of the three countries only had a brief encounter around the venue of the multilateral forum. Amid this situation, Pompeo handed over President Trump’s letter to Ri. The letter was a reply to the correspondence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had sent to President Trump when returning the remains of U.S. soldiers who went missing during the Korean War. Negotiations over the North’s denuclearization have not progressed even a single inch, but the two sides are effectively only maintaining a line of dialogue through exchange of letters between their leaders.
Washington focused its efforts on reminding ARF member countries of the need to continue sanctions against Pyongyang to secure the North’s denuclearization. Pompeo warned of violation of sanctions by Russia and others, and stressing the need for concerted efforts by the international community. The U.S. Treasury Department also added to its sanctions list four organizations including a Russian bank on the charge of involvement in illegal financial transactions with the North. Washington thus announced additional sanctions two months after President Trump suspended in early June, saying that he would avoid even using the expression “maximum pressure.” Foreign media organizations introduced the U.N. sanctions committee’s panel report on sanctions against the North that warns Pyongyang over its sanctions violation, and nuclear and missile activities.
Even so, the North insists on reopening of dialogue in a “unique way” while rejecting working-level talks for its denuclearization. Pyongyang demands that the two sides end the stalemate through a top-down method by holding a second summit. It is in this context that North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho expressed discontent, saying “Attempts are being badly made within the U.S. to return to outdated ways contrary to the intention of the leaderships.” However, there is no chance that Washington will restart summit diplomacy without seeing any progress made in the North’s denuclearization. Washington is countering Pyongyang through a two-sided approach of hard-line and soft-line tactics with the president seeking a different stance from his administration. While keeping a line of communications through exchange of personal letters, Washington is thus effectively pressuring Pyongyang by strengthening sanctions.
Such war of nerves between the two nations cannot continue forever. No matter how hard the North seeks to increase loopholes in sanctions, it will face barriers to dodging networks of international sanctions, while Washington cannot afford to allow the North to continue efforts to strengthen its nuclear and missile capabilities forever. As such, the two sides will have to embrace either duel or conclusion of a deal in a not-so-distant future. Despite this, the Seoul government, which is facing controversy for excessively speeding up efforts to improve inter-Korean relations, apparently seems to be impatient. Seoul should guide Pyongyang to dump ill-advised expectations by strengthening Seoul-Washington collaboration all the more, especially if and when the situation does not improve as in the present.