Multiple senior White House aides said Washington is now considering new proposals that they hope will be a “breakthrough” in stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea, a US magazine reported Thursday.
If a deal can be struck, the hope is that the agreement will be signed at a potential third summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this fall, according to an article by Harry Kazianis, a senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, carried in the American Conservative.
The summit will likely be held in an Asian capital that is accessible by train or airplane from Pyongyang, he said.
“The White House is working under the assumption that there is enough of a chance that the Kim regime is interested that it is ‘worth making the attempt,’” Kazianis wrote.
In the spring, White House officials working with the US State Department and members of the US intelligence community considered the possibility of restoring a multilateral framework, like the six-party talks of the 2000s, which would include North Korea’s two closest allies. The idea was to draw Pyongyang back to the bargaining table and prevent long-range missile testing that could threaten the US mainland, according to Kazianis.
One White House official told Kazianis that it was never clear if Trump ever really fully supported the plan in the first place, although he was willing to give it a try, especially if it would bring North Korea back to a set negotiation process and spark a potential summit.
Another White House source told Kazianis that the idea was pitched to Pyongyang last month, but “went nowhere.”
Trump and his aides went back to work on the idea of a bilateral summit.
“While White House sources were clear there is still an ongoing debate on what to offer North Korea, the idea is to pitch something where Trump can’t be called weak by the Joe Biden campaign and offers North Korea enough where they will take at least, what was called by one White House official a ‘modest step’ towards denuclearization,” Kazianis wrote.
The idea is to offer a “customized package of sanctions relief” in exchange for a reciprocal package that includes the dismantlement of one or more key nuclear production facilities as well as a formal nuclear and missile testing moratorium pledge, according to two White House sources cited by Kazianis.
There is also interest this time in securing a freeze on nuclear weapons production by North Korea as well as the production of any missiles or fissile materials, according to a US State Department source.
Such a package, however, is similar to others that were on offer at the 2019 Hanoi summit: North Korea would have traded the huge nuclear complex at Yongbyon for an end to the most crippling of UN Security Council sanctions, Kazianis wrote.
Kazianis’ sources in the White House said they understand that going back to the same deal won’t work, but they “are willing to trade concession for concession, and are willing to put a lot of new things on the table and truly get creative and take some risks we have not in the past. We just need to know what North Korea is looking for. We want to make this work.”
Kazianis also wrote that the two sides could also talk about ending the Korean War in a nonbinding political declaration, knowing the US Senate would most likely not ratify a formal peace treaty.
Kazianis quoted a Trump 2020 campaign official as saying: “Ending the Korean War not only helps Trump achieve a historic milestone but it’s something that if the timing is right, say in October, allows us a win Democrats would have a hard time blunting. How do you run against peace? You can’t without looking like a sore loser or jealous.”
White House officials admitted that they worry North Korea might not come to the table, knowing that Trump’s reelection is in doubt.
Many in Washington think one of the reasons the Hanoi summit failed is that North Korean working-level talks leading up to the summit could not negotiate anything related to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
At the time, North Korea’s diplomats said anything involving denuclearization would only be discussed by Kim Jong-un himself at the “leader to leader level,” and that he had a “big present” for Trump, Kazianis wrote.
Kazianis suggested that as the Trump administration is clearly making China the top national security priority in Asia, “one idea worth considering would be to put nuclear weapons at the end of a normalization process that champions arms control and not denuclearization.”
“If American can live with a nuclear Russia, China and Pakistan, why not North Korea? No White House official would touch that question, at least for now,” he wrote.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org