U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that his country has “engaged with North Korea to replace the specter of conflict with a bold and new push for peace.” He also thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for “his courage and for the steps he has taken” but that sanctions against Pyongyang will be maintained “until denuclearization occurs.”
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump promoted his summit with Kim Jong Un as one of his greatest diplomatic achievements. In a speech a year earlier, he warned that his country would “totally destroy” North Korea. Trump’s nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang has become a major accomplishment ahead of the November mid-term elections. However, he believes that it resulted from his “maximum pressures” against the North and that sanctions are the driving force behind the North’s denuclearization steps.
Now that Trump has made it official that he will seek a second round of summit with Kim, the time and venue have become a focus of interest. Although the U.S. president mentioned “in the not too distant time,” it remains unclear whether a new summit will take place before or after the mid-term elections. Trump did not even mention a single word about “corresponding measures” that Pyongyang demanded in return for its denuclearization steps.
Of course, the current highest level of sanctions on the North will not continue until Pyongyang completes its denuclearization. Although U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that North Korea sanctions will remain in place until denuclearization is achieved, President Trump said the sanctions will stay in place “until denuclearization occurs.” Trump’s remarks can be interpreted as an indication that step-by-step easing of the sanctions is possible once Pyongyang takes substantial denuclearization steps. Still, it is clear that Washington has no intention of compromising the principle of “denuclearization first.”
Pompeo will soon meet with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, in New York. The U.S. and the North are also scheduled to hold working-level talks in Vienna, Austria. The talks could lead to Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang. However, it took three months before the first round of Trump-Kim summit took place, and there were many twists and turns during the process. Kim Jong Un should remember that the U.S.-North Korea relations could go adrift amid uncertainties if Pyongyang fails to put its commitment to complete denuclearization into action.