U.S. President Donald Trump canceled a trip to North Korea that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to take early this week. It seems the decision announced on Trump’s twitter account a day after the announcement of the visit was made on impulse. As Trump explained that he felt there isn't sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, this decision is a strong warning and pressure on North Korea that has been stubbornly keeping its stance on denuclearization.
It is the first time that the U.S. president acknowledged that his negotiation with North Korea has not been smooth since the June 12 summit. He added that Pompeo would visit North Korea “in the near future, most likely after our trading relationship with China is resolved,” while Trump criticized China for not helping out with the denuclearization issue. It is a warning that Trump would not contact North Korea if China and North Korea do not change their stance on this issue, which seems to bear in mind Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea in September. But he also said, “In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon,” which is to call on Kim to make a decision to break the stalemate in the denuclearization issue.
Trump’s message is clear, but it has complicated implications on South Korean President Moon Jae-in's North Korea policies. Trump’s decision was made when Moon Jae-in’s devotion on an event to declare the end of war and push to establish an inter-Korean liaison office were about to trigger conflicts between South Korea and the United States. If Pyongyang and Washington stay disconnected until the inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang next month, Moon would have little room for maneuver. In the past, Trump had announced cancellation of the Singapore summit and changed his mind, but things are different now. North Korea’s sanguinary words and attitude were the issue at that time, but now the issue is conflicts around concrete denuclearization steps. And South Korea cannot be the bridge for the two countries again by holding an emergency inter-Korean summit.
Moon needs to persuade and put pressure on Kim Jong Un rather than arbitrate conflicts in the middle to put Kim on the trajectory to denuclearization. He needs to make North Korea realize that the first step to guarantee regime continuity including end of war declaration is submitting the status of nuclear weapons, materials and facilities as well as the roadmap for denuclearization. That is the only way to recreate reconciliatory atmosphere between North Korea and the United States in the nearest future. The South Korean government unilaterally trying to improve inter-Korean relations is like building a castle in the air, which could knock down the South Korea-U.S. ties.