- 연구원소식 - Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Titles [Jeju, Island of World Peace] (No.1 | February 2019)_Recent Developments on the Korean Peninsula and Peace Regime
Writer JPI  (admin)
2019-09-17 오후 4:27:15


Recent Developments on the Korean Peninsula and Peace Regime



Hyun-Wook Kim

Professor, Korea National Diplomatic Academy


Recently, United States Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun visited Pyongyang for working-level talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol. After returning to Seoul, Biegun announced that the location of the next US-North Korea summit will be Hanoi. The United States made concessions on the location North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly wants to hold a bilateral meeting with the Vietnamese leadership which would be a very important event during his state visit to Hanoi and further burnish his image as the leader of a normal state.  


Things are progressing smoothly for the summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un. They have already agreed on the dates of the meeting. They aim to specify what they had previously agreed to in Singapore last year. However, the two leaders will need a more detailed agreement this time. Trump needs to achieve a positive outcome from the summit due to the US domestic political situation, which is very critical of him, so he can boast about the positive achievements of the summit and argue that he is doing the right thing in removing the North Korean threat and advancing denuclearization efforts. If the summit can achieve the lifting of sanctions, Kim Jong Un will also be happy given his aim for the summit is to lift sanctions so that he can initiate economic reform measures in North Korea. 


Contrary to these expectations, the focal issues do not seem to be evolving smoothly. North Korea now insists that corresponding measures should come from the United States first before North Korea takes denuclearization measures. As North Korea has taken many significant measures already, such as destroying the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and returning the Korean War remains of American servicemen, now it is the United States’ turn to offer some corresponding measures. This North Korean position has been consistent. Even in his most recent New Year’s speech, Kim Jong Un made it clear that it is now up to the US to take significant measures.


The US position, in contrast, has been fluctuating. In the beginning, it maintained the position of ‘denuclearization first, incentives later.’ But that has begun to change. It has recently shifted to accept the North Korean position of ‘simultaneous actions.’ At the end of last year, in order to find a pathway for a dialogue between the US and North Korea, Biegun announced that the US was resuming humanitarian aid to North Korea. This was a significant signal to North Korea that there would be some lifting of sanctions by the US first before North Korea takes significant measures for denuclearization.


The core of the deal between the US and North Korea lies in what the inter-Korean Pyongyang Joint Declaration outlined. In the declaration, North and South Korean leaders stipulated that when there are corresponding US measures, North Korea would destroy and dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility. It also said that North Korea would dismantle the Dongchang-ri missile launch site under the observation of international experts. But the US position is that there should first be a declaration and verification of the nuclear capabilities of North Korea.


In a January 2019 speech at Stanford University, Biegun made several important points about the denuclearization of North Korea. First, Kim Jong Un made it clear that he would destroy and dismantle plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) sites beyond the Yongbyon facility, though how to do it, including inspections and verification, would be discussed in working-level talks with North Korea. Second, a comprehensive declaration of the entire North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program and missile capabilities should be done. Biegun implied that though this is not an imminent issue, it should be done sometime in the near future. Third, the ultimate objective of the US is removing not only nuclear weapons but also other fissile materials, inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), launchers, and other weapons of mass destruction.  


Returning to Biegun’s recent visit to Pyongyang, it seems that the two sides still showed significant differences in their respective stances. North Korea wants to lift sanctions first, and the US might want North Korea to accept inspection and verification of nuclear facilities like Yongbyon. Concerning sanctions, Kim Jong Un mentioned in his New Year’s speech the resumption of operations at the Gaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourist resort. However, normalization of the Gaesong complex is currently in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and it will be difficult for the US to make an exemption.


If the second summit fails to come up with detailed outcomes, it will have negative consequences for both Trump and Kim Jong Un. For Kim Jong Un, failure to lift sanctions would entail domestic economic hardship. Even though he stressed economic development by his people’s own efforts in his New Year’s speech, it would not be easy for Kim Jong Un to assuage the North Korean people’s complaints. Lifting sanctions is an essential requirement for North Korea’s economic reform measures.  


For Trump, failure to achieve detailed and substantial measures to denuclearize North Korea would bring him in for harsher criticism of his North Korea policy. Amid Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Trump, he would face an even worse domestic political situation.  


As Biegun mentioned in his Stanford speech, the US is ready with a contingency plan involving harsher sanctions and possible military option in case North Korea does not denuclearize. The possibility of this plan remains low, for now. But as the US presidential election draws closer, there is not much time left for the US and North Korea to make a deal on denuclearization.


Hyun-Wook Kim is a Professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy. He has PhD in political science at Brown University. His research areas include US-ROK Alliance, US-North Korea relations, etc. He can be reached at hwkim08@mofa.go.kr.