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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 10)

All News 07:04 July 10, 2018

Bumpy road ahead
North should take follow-up steps for denuclearization

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's commitment to complete denuclearization is now being called into question. Skepticism is growing after Washington and Pyongyang made little progress on the issue during their high-level talks to discuss follow-up measures after the historic June 12 summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

It is no exaggeration to say that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up his third visit to Pyongyang over the weekend empty-handed. He went out of his way to describe the talks, first of their kinds since the Trump-Kim summit, as "productive," but his description was seen only as diplomatic rhetoric.

Regrettably, Pompeo was met by Pyongyang's harsh accusation that the U.S. was making "gangster-like" denuclearization demands of the North. The accusation was contained in a statement issued by the North's foreign ministry and published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It apparently reflected the Kim regime's protest against U.S. demands for detailed actions and a timeline for fully verified and complete denuclearization.

Pompeo dismissed the statement, saying that "If those requests were gangster-like the world is a gangster." But he had to admit the road ahead will be difficult and challenging, although he argued that his visit to the North had "made progress" and had a detailed and substantive discussion about the next steps toward complete denuclearization.

As for progress, he cited the formation of working groups to discuss how to achieve the dismantling of the North's nuclear arsenal, as well as the return of remains of American soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

But, Pompeo has come under criticism for failing to get the immediate return of the remains. He also failed to get the North's assurance to shut down its missile engine testing site. Besides, he left Pyongyang without meeting Kim. All these could bode ill for future negotiations with the North.

The nuclear talks are likely to face a rocky road ahead, especially because both sides are still poles apart over what denuclearization means and how it can be realized. Washington wants to see denuclearization come first before any rewards. But Pyongyang prefers phased and reciprocal denuclearization so that it can get security guarantees and economic rewards simultaneously.

The North's uncompromising position raises the question about its real intention of abandoning its nuclear program. More worrisome is that Pyongyang is trying to dictate the terms of denuclearization by using improving ties with China as leverage in the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. It is also seeking sanctions relief even before taking any step to dismantle its nuclear weapons.

Thus it would be better for the Trump administration not to play into the hands of the Kim regime and repeat the mistakes of the past 25 years. For this, the U.S. needs to utilize the proper mix of carrots and sticks to deal with the recalcitrant North. That's why Washington should keep maximum pressure and sanctions against Pyongyang until the latter makes better progress in denuclearization.

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