U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that progress was made when Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers' Party of Korea, visited Washington last week, and that positive results were reached during recent working-level talks in Sweden. Although Pompeo did not reveal details about the progress, a South Korean government official said the two sides reached a comprehensive agreement on the achieving a complete denuclearization by 2020 in exchange for corresponding measures.
The key for the second U.S.-North Korea summit scheduled for late February lies in that the two sides come up with a concrete roadmap for Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization as agreed at the first summit in Singapore last year and the establishment of a new bilateral relationship. The two sides have long been waging a war of nerves over the starting point. Their negotiation has screeched to a halt, as the North rejected Washington’s demand that Pyongyang make a full report of its nuclear arsenal and facilities. It seems that they reached a compromise on a proposal that the North reports its key nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and accept international inspection, while the U.S. opens a liaison office in the North and ease the restriction on oil shipments to the communist state. With the plan as a starting point, the two sides appear to draw up a timetable for the entire denuclearization process leading up a complete nuclear dismantlement.
As the deadlocked U.S.-North Korea negotiations are picking up speed again, media and experts in South Korea and the U.S. have an increasing suspicion that the two could end up making just a “small deal.” They are concerned that Washington might make a “dangerous deal” of removing Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missiles posing threats to U.S. mainland while tolerating the North’s nuclear possession. In order to address such a suspicion, the Trump administration probably decided that it has to agree on a roadmap for the North’s complete denuclearization, including total scrapping of its nuclear facilities, materials and weapons, and win international confidence by taking bold implementation measures from the early stages of the process. While concrete measures will likely be made through the bilateral negotiations, it remains to be seen what kind of final agreement the two will reach, as the devil is the details.
Just as past agreements on the North’s denuclearization have gone nowhere, however, even the most concrete pact could go back to square one or even lead to a greater danger if promises are not kept. Therefore, the roadmap should include a powerful safety device that would enforce the North’s implementation when it balks and backtracks on its denuclearization measures. It may be inevitable to partly ease or exempt sanctions to facilitate denuclearization. There has to be a system that would automatically impose stronger sanctions and heavier pressures should Pyongyang becomes unfaithful toward implementing the roadmap so that the failure of the September 19, 2005 agreement is not repeated.