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.
The South Korean military said Monday the soldier was trying to defect in the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
North Korean soldiers have crossed the border to defect at times. But it is rare for a North Korean soldier to defect by crossing the DMZ. North and South Korean soldiers stand meters away from each other.
The North Korean soldier left from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village to the southern side of the village. He was shot in the shoulder and elbow and was taken to a South Korean hospital, said the South’s Defense Ministry.
It was not immediately known how serious his injuries were or why he decided to defect.
South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing the sound of gunfire. South Korean troops did not fire at Northern soldiers, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.
The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea has normally accused South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies.
Panmunjom and other DMZ areas are guarded by hundreds of thousands of troops from North Korea and the United Nations Command. The command includes troops from the United States and South Korea.
The area is a popular stop for visitors from both sides. American presidents often visit the DMZ during their trips to South Korea. President Donald Trump planned to visit the DMZ during his visit to South Korea. But bad weather prevented his helicopter from landing near the border area.
It is estimated that about 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. But most of them travel through China.
In 1998, a North Korean soldier fled to the South through the DMZ, but there have been few incidents in recent years.
Earlier in 1976, North Korean soldiers with axes and knives attacked a group of soldiers in the DMZ, killing two American soldiers and injuring five South Korean soldiers. The U.S. then flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ as a warning to North Korea.
In 1984, North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers exchanged gunfire after a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean side of the village. Three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier died in the gunfire.
US Brings Legal Action Against Chinese Company for North Korea Ties
The United States announced criminal charges and economic sanctions against four Chinese individuals and a Chinese company earlier this week.
The U.S. government said it acted to punish them for suspected support for North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
On Wednesday, a State Department official suggested that more Chinese companies and individuals could face investigation for suspected violations of sanctions on North Korea.
The State Department’s coordinator for Sanctions Policy, Daniel Fried, spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee.
He said, “It would also be useful if Chinese banks and companies understood that increasingly dealing with North Korean companies, especially those that are sanctioned, is going to be risky.”
Two days earlier, the Treasury Department announced criminal charges and economic actions against a Chinese seller of industrial machinery. It named four top officials of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Developmental Company Limited (DHID).
The four include the company’s chairwoman, Ma Xiaohong. They are accused of plotting to avoid sanctions against North Korea, and using American financial businesses to hide the money they earned illegally.
Chinese officials also are investigating the company. They are looking at its connection with the Kwangson Banking Corporation, a North Korean bank. U.S. and United Nations have said the bank has provided financial services in support of North Korea’s weapons programs.
A State Department officials said, “This shows we can work cooperatively with China; we both see it in our interests to apply greater pressure on North Korea.”
On Tuesday, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official spoke to reporters about the U.S. action. Spokesman Geng Shuang said China was prepared to support U.N. resolutions against North Korea. The resolutions call for sanctions to punish the North for its nuclear and missile tests.
However, the spokesman expressed opposition to other countries using their own laws against companies or people within China.
“I want to stress that we oppose any country enacting so-called ‘long-arm jurisdiction,’ using its own domestic laws against a Chinese entity or individual,” he said.
In March, China agreed to the strongest U.N. Security Council sanctions yet to limit trade with North Korea.
The council's members have approved other actions to punish the country for its nuclear activities and missile program. Those restrictions have largely halted North Korean trade with countries other than China.
North Korea has faced severe international sanctions to punish the country for its nuclear activity and missile program.
Those restrictions have largely halted North Korean trade with countries other than China.
However, new research suggests that North Korean state-operated businesses are using middlemen in China to avoid sanctions.
I’m Mario Ritter.
This story was written from reports by Pete Cobus and Nike Ching for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
entity –n. a legal business or organization, something that exists by itself and is separate from other things
middlemen –n. people who buy goods from a producer and sell them to someone else