Mission Possible? US State Secretary Goes to Pyongyang Again
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Gleb Ivashentsov

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of The Russian Federation to the Republic of Korea (2005-2009), Vice-President of the Russian International Affairs Council

Valdai Discussion Club

However, how can such a mission be accomplished? First of all, the US and the DPRK understand the very concept of denuclearization differently. According to the United States, this is an immediate, complete and irreversible refusal of nuclear missile weapons by Pyongyang. The American media and academic circles discussed means and ways of these weapons shipment from the territory of the DPRK (of course, to the territory of the United States). In particular, John Bolton, US President National Security advisor, said that such “denuclearization” can be implemented within a year.

Nevertheless, for Pyongyang the nuclear missile program is a shield for its security, and Kim Jong-un does not intend to sacrifice it for another photo opportunity with President Trump. Therefore, the DPRK leader is not talking about the unilateral denuclearization of the North, but about the denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula – both the North and the South. This formula is included into the Trump-Kim joint statement following the results of the Singapore summit. This implies, among other things, the United States’ refusal to deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea in the future, calls of American ships carrying nuclear weapons into South Korean ports, and the direction of strategic bombers into the Korean airspace. The North Korean leader also noted that Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear weapons, first, only in the context of complete and universal nuclear disarmament, and, second, only on the condition that the DPRK would be provided with solid security guarantees.

The North Korean leadership is undoubtedly interested in detente on the Korean peninsula. If the byungjin ideology previously proclaimed by Kim Jong-un envisaged a combination of a mighty nuclear potential build-up and parallel development of a thriving national economy, then in April this year at a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) it was declared that the success in building a nuclear missile potential allows the party to concentrate all forces on the development of socialist economy.

Pyongyang’s words are confirmed by concrete deeds. The North Korean Punggye-ri nuclear test site was dismantled. Missile tests have not been conducted for more than six months. There are some positive developments in inter-Korean affairs. The propaganda calls through the loudspeakers on the cease-fire line were stopped and military meetings were held at a high level. Pyongyang seems to have a clear step-by-step program of a possible bargaining with the US on mutual security obligations.

In Singapore, the United States had the opportunity to begin a substantive discussion with the DPRK on its nuclear affairs and, at the first stage, to achieve a real progress. For instance, by proposing Pyongyang to sign a non-aggression pact, on the condition that the level of its nuclear-missile potential is reduced to the level of necessary self-defense. But the American side did not go to such substantive conversation, although the Trump-Kim summit undoubtedly had its positive result: the joint US-South Korean Ulchi Freedom Guardian military maneuvers were postponed for the second half of summer.

The issue of curtailment of the North Korean nuclear missile program concerns a much wider range of countries than the United States and the two Korean states. The nuclear disarmament of North Korea and the provision of security guarantees to Pyongyang is a complex knot of problems that cannot be cut in one sweep and only by an American hand. It will take multi-round, long and difficult negotiations, and inevitably with the participation of Russia and China, since Pyongyang needs security guarantees not only and not so much from Washington, which with its exit from the JCPOA confirmed its insecurity as a partner in treaties.

This is well understood in both Korean states. Evidence of this are two visits by Kim Jong-un to China and visits to Moscow by President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Yong-nam and President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in.

As for Pompeo’s current trip to Pyongyang, it is not a separate trip as it was in April, but a part of an “Asian tour.” From Pyongyang, the head of the US State Department will fly to Tokyo, and then to Hanoi and the United Arab Emirates, completing his route on July 10 in Brussels, where he will join President Trump at the NATO summit.

Therefore, we should not consider Pompeo’s talks with the North Koreans as a new milestone in the development of the situation around the North Korean nuclear missile program. This is more the result of internal political strife on the eve of the November midterm elections to the US Congress. The summit in Singapore, with all its limited results, gave Trump a reason to assert that he achieved significant success in Korean affairs in comparison with his predecessor Obama. Trump did what he told he would do, and this in a certain measure raised his rating as well as that of his party. It is not surprising that Trump’s opponents could not put up with this. Hence the recent reports by the Washington Post and other American media that Pyongyang is not going to abandon the nuclear missile program, hides the true number of its nuclear warheads and generally “fools” the Americans. Pompeo, with his trip to the DPRK, should confirm that Trump’s line of dialogue with Pyongyang is in the interest of US security, no matter that his talks will end only with general words about adherence to peace without any mutual obligations.

Valdai Discussion Club