US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just concluded another round of high level talks with DPRK officials in Pyongyang. Pompeo who reportedly delivered a special present from Donald Trump to Kim Jong-un, a music CD of the Elton John song ‘Rocket Man’ has described the meetings in the following way,
“I think we made progress in every element of our discussions. These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues. Some places a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done”.
— Department of State (@StateDept) July 7, 2018
Meanwhile, the DPRK’s Foreign Minister released a statement which appears to contradict the US side’s buoyant mood. According to the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang:
“International society has focused its expectation and attention on the DPRK-U.S. high-level talks for the implementation of the Joint Statement of the DPRK-U.S. summit after the first historic summit meeting and talks were held between the DPRK and the U.S.
We expected that the U.S. side would bring itself with a constructive proposal which would help build up trust true to the spirit of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks. We, on our part, were also thinking of doing something which corresponds with it.
It was, however, so regretful to mention what the U.S. side had shown in its attitude and stand at the first DPRK-U.S. high-level talks held on 6 and 7 July.
The DPRK side, during the talks, put forward the constructive proposals to seek a balanced implementation of all the provisions of the Joint Statement out of its firm willingness to remain faithful to the implementation of the spirit and agreed points of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks.
These include taking wide-ranging proactive steps of simultaneous actions in a respective manner such as realizing multilateral exchanges for improved relations between the DPRK and the U.S., making public a declaration on the end of war first on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, dismantling the test ground of high thrust engine to make a physical verification of the suspension of ICBM production as part of denuclearization steps and making an earliest start of the working-level talks for recovering POW/MIA remains.
Before the talks, Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, who is also a chief delegate from our side to the talks, was authorized to convey with a due respect to U.S. State Secretary Pompeo a personal letter sent from Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK Kim Jong Un to President Trump.
Chairman Kim Jong Un expressed his expectation and conviction that good personal relations forged with President Trump and his sentiments of good faith built towards the latter at the Singapore summit and talks would be further consolidated through the process of future dialogues such as high-level talks this time.
But, the U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization just calling for CVID, declaration and verification, all of which run counter to the spirit of the Singapore summit meeting and talks.
The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war. It took the position that it would even backtrack on the issue it had agreed on to end the status of war under certain conditions and excuses.
As for the issue of announcing the declaration of the end of war at an early date, it is the first process of defusing tension and establishing a lasting peace regime on the Korean peninsula, and at the same time, it constitutes a first factor in creating trust between the DPRK and the U.S. This issue was also stipulated in Panmunjom Declaration as a historical task to terminate the war status on the Korean peninsula which continues for nearly 70 years. President Trump, too, was more enthusiastic about this issue at the DPRK-U.S. summit talks.
The issues the U.S. side insisted on at the talks are all roots of troubles, which the previous administrations also had insisted on to disrupt the dialogue processes, stoke the distrust and increase the danger of war.
The U.S. side, during the talks, made a great publicity about suspension of one or two joint military exercises. But suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed anytime at any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously-held positions without scraping even a rifle. This is incomparable with the irreversible step taken by the DPRK to explode and dismantle the nuclear test ground.
The results of the talks can’t but be so apprehensive.
We thought that the U.S. side would come with a constructive proposal which accords with the spirit of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks. But expectation and hope of ours were so naive as to be foolish.
Conventional ways can never create new things. Treading on trite stereotype of all the failure would invite another failure only.
Valuable agreement was reached in such a short time at the Singapore summit talks first ever in the history of the DPRK-U.S. relations. This is attributable to the fact that President Trump himself said he would move towards resolving the DPRK-U.S. relations and the issue of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a new way.
If both sides at the working level reneged on the new way agreed at the summit and returned to the old way, the epoch-making Singapore summit would be meaningless, which was held thanks to the determinations and wills of the two top leaders to open a new future for the interests of the two peoples and peace and security of the world.
The first DPRK-U.S. high-level talks this time brought us in a dangerous situation where we may be shaken in our unshakable will for denuclearization, rather than consolidating trust between the DPRK and the U.S.
In the last few months, we displayed maximum patience and watched the U.S. while initiating good-will steps as many as we can.
But, it seems that the U.S. misunderstood our goodwill and patience.
The U.S. is fatally mistaken if it went to the extent of regarding that the DPRK would be compelled to accept, out of its patience, the demands reflecting its gangster-like mindset.
A shorter way to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula is to remove deep-rooted mistrust and build up trust between the DPRK and the U.S. For this, both sides should be bold enough to be free from old ways which had only recorded failures and resolve the problem in a fresh manner which is never bound by the existing ways. A shortcut to it is also to take a step-by-step approach and follow the principle of simultaneous actions in resolving what is feasible one by one while giving priority to creating trust.
But, if the U.S., being captivated in a fidget, tries to force upon us the old ways claimed by the previous administrations, this will get us nowhere.
If the objective situation does not stand in favor of the denuclearization against our wills, this would rather cast a heavy cloud over the atmosphere of developing bilateral relations which had shown its good movement in its beginning.
Should the headwind begin to blow, it would cause a great disappointment not only to the international society aspiring after global peace and security but also to both the DPRK and the U.S. If so, this will finally make each side seek for another choice and there is no guarantee that this will not result into yet another tragedy.
We still cherish our good faith in President Trump.
The U.S. should make a serious consideration of whether the toleration of the headwind against the wills of the two top leaders would meet the aspirations and expectations of the world people as well as the interests of its country”.
While cynics will immediately latch on to these statements as an indication that the peace process is not progressing in a mutually constructive manner, in reality the statements were clearly designed more for the consumption of those who were not directly privy to the content of the meetings than the leadership of both nations who clearly are privy to exactly what was said during the closed door sessions – even though neither Kim Jong-un nor Donald Trump were present during discussions with high level officials from both nations.
In this sense, it helps to understand the statements as a projection of what each side wants the wider world public to think. From the US perspective, the message was one that was overwhelmingly positive while admitting that more work will need to be done. This is as good a message from the US side as one could hope for and in reality, it likely reflects a generally accurate description of the discussions as the DPRK clearly does not want to end the peace process over small but inevitable disagreements as was confirmed by the fact that historic anti-American art pieces throughout Pyongyang have recently been replaced by messages stressing peace and Korean unity.
At the same time, the DPRK wants to send a message to the wider world including its Chinese and Russian partners that the US isn’t going to get an easy time from the DPRK. In other words rather than capitulating to US demands which are often outlandish in their lopsided characteristics towards a negotiating partner, the DPRK will instead demand to be treated with respect throughout the difficult process. This was not only the overriding theme of the just released statement from the Foreign Ministry but it was also the motivation behind recently released photos of Kim Jong-un touring agricultural facilities in the back seat of an old Russian compact Lada car.
As I wrote at the time,
“While the DPRK can clearly benefit from both fresh inward investment and new interconnectivity initiatives with its neighbours, the country also refuses to hide its record of recent economic success in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds.
It is for this reason that Kim was photographed getting into and riding in the back of a quintessentially socialist ‘every man’s car’ at a time when the DPRK may be on the verge of new economic avenues which could eventually make old Lada vehicles a thing of the past.
In this sense, Kim’s choice of ride was a symbolic statement that could be read as: ‘We’re on the verge of a new era of peace through prosperity but even if we were not, we can still get by with what we have’. This statement in no way seeks to undermine the potential for a new era in the DPRK, but nevertheless is an important signal that far from surrendering the socialist roots and traditions of Kim Il-Sung, the DPRK like China before it simply planning on building upon its history by embracing reforms that are in-line with its deeply cherished cultural characteristics”.
Today’s statement from the DPRK thus reflects a country that no longer issues threats of retaliation against the US while simultaneously, an angry tone in today’s statement is noticeably absent. Instead, highly diplomatic language expressing “regret” combined with a commitment to continue negotiations in good faith which itself is combined with an equally diplomatic admonition to the US not to force the DPRK to abandon the peace process it has fully embraced was enunciated. Another subtext to this statement is that should the DPRK feel unsatisfied with the specific stumbling blocks which will inevitably arise during discussions with the US, the DPRK can and will continue to intensely correspond with its Chinese and Russian partners. In this sense, without offending any nation, the DPRK has made it clear that it is capable of assuring its self-interest by balancing those of both its historic/contemporary partners as well as those of the United States. Thus, today’s statement is as indicative of Pyongyang’s newfound ability to balance the interests of the superpowers against its own while also letting the US know that there is more than one option on the wider table, especially if the US does not refrain from speaking in the provocative language of unilateralism. Likewise, the statement actually reiterates Pyongyang’s commitment to de-militarisation beyond a narrow understanding of de-nuclearisation.
One can always judge the intention of a party to the meeting by the statements they make immediately afterwards. For the US, progress continues while for the DPRK, the US must tread carefully so as to avoid slipping into a unilateral mentality that the DPRK is not prepared to engage with. In this sense, both sides are expressing confidence in different ways. Washington is clearly confident that the peace process is headed in the right direction, while the DPRK is confident enough in its position to constructively criticise a larger and more militarily aggressive negotiating partner.
While today’s statements are not demonstrative of the language typically associated with a win-win outcome, they also fall far short of suggesting a zero-sum failure. Thus, hysterical interpretations of the statements from Washington and Pyongyang should be avoided no matter which country’s overall position one personally adopts.