Many people were shocked last week by news of the planned talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are supposed to meet by May.
Yet as of Monday, the Associated Press noted that North Korean media had yet to confirm the meeting. A South Korean spokesman said, “I feel they’re approaching this matter with caution and they need time to organize their stance.”
Observers say the meeting has raised expectations of progress in resolving the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. But they warn the process leading to removal of all nuclear weapons from the area is complex.
Can a deal be reached?
On Saturday, Trump said his talks with Kim could end with no agreement or they could be “the greatest deal for the world.”
Cheong Seong-chang is an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. He is hopeful about the meeting.
“It is expected that there will be more rapid progress regarding the freezing and dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program than in the past, as the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea will meet directly this time,” he said.
Experts suggest North Korea could offer to stop developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The country has said its missiles can hit the United States.
The experts believe that North Korea could announce an extension of its freeze on missile and nuclear tests. They also say the North could even offer to reduce the amount of nuclear materials it has saved for making nuclear weapons.
It is unclear what the U.S. government might offer in return. The Trump administration is concerned about offering help in exchange for promises. Officials note that North Korea failed to honor earlier agreements.
Experts suggest the U.S. would likely demand that international inspectors be given permission to verify any freeze or break up of the nuclear program. Only then, they say, would economic actions against the North be reduced.
However, the U.S. government would have to offer something that North Korea wants in return.
Go Myong-Hyun is a North Korea expert with the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. He said, “In order to make the whole process successful, for which Donald Trump will be responsible, he would have to provide economic concessions.”
Both sides have acted to moderate the situation
North Korea and the United States have made the possibility of talks more likely by easing tensions.
The North Korean government has not tested nuclear weapons or long distance missiles since November of last year.
The U.S. side has dropped its condition that North Korea take real measures to end its nuclear program before talks can begin. The Trump administration, however, says its “maximum pressure” campaign will remain in place until a deal is reached.
The U.S. has led efforts in the United Nations Security Council to put in place sanctions that have cost North Korea billions of dollars in trade. Security Council measures also have punished individuals and companies linked to the North Korean government.
Concerns about North Korea’s true goals
Some experts are concerned that North Korea could be seeking to delay international action while strengthening its nuclear program.
Some experts think North Korea has from 13 to 30 nuclear weapons. The North continues to produce nuclear fuel, plutonium, at its Yongbyon nuclear center.
Experts say it could take years for inspectors to confirm that the production had been stopped. In that time, they say, North Korea could add to its nuclear weapons stockpile.
The Asan Institute’s Go Myong-Hyun said, “If North Korea can have nuclear weapons for the next 20 years in the process of nuclear disarmament, then North Korea becomes a de facto nuclear state.”
Many issues, sides to be considered
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is to hold talks with Kim Jong Un in April before the proposed meeting with the U.S. president
Moon and Kim are expected to talk about a proposal for restarting communications between the North and South Korean militaries. Other subjects for discussion include reunions for families separated by the Korean War and restarting humanitarian aid.
The Moon administration also may offer North Korea an economic deal tied to progress in denuclearization.
The South Korean leader might offer to reopen the Kaesong industrial center, which was closed after a North Korean nuclear test in 2016. The factory complex provided jobs to thousands of North Koreans. The international community accused the North of using money from the complex for its weapons programs.
On Monday, South Korea’s national security adviser praised China, another country with an interest in the denuclearization talks.
The official, Chung Eui-yong, met with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy adviser.
Chung said South Korean government officials “believe that various advances toward achieving the goal of peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula were made with active support and contribution from President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government.”
Yang repeated China’s position that it wants denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and problems to be solved through talks.
A permanent peace?
In the past, North Korea has called for a permanent peace to replace the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War.
Cheong Soeng Chang spoke about the possibility of North Korea giving up its nuclear and missile programs. For that to happen, he said, “the United States will have to cease all joint South Korea-US military exercises, completely eliminate the international community’s sanctions on North Korea, and to accept establishing diplomatic ties between the US and North Korea.”
The United States and South Korea have said they oppose ending their long military alliance in exchange for the North’s denuclearization.
The U.S. military currently keeps about 28,000 soldiers and other armed forces members in South Korea.