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(News Focus) DMZ meeting resets nuclear talks amid lingering skepticism

North Korea 08:44 July 01, 2019

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, June 30 (Yonhap) -- The surprise meeting Sunday between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the inter-Korean border reset talks on the North's nuclear weapons program as skepticism continued over a deal.

After a monthslong hiatus, the two leaders agreed to resume talks, boosting hopes not only for North Korea's denuclearization but also a lasting peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

The hope is that the two sides will this time be able to meet each other halfway on U.S. demands for complete denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

Skeptics still argue the North has no intention to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as they meet at the Freedom House on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, on June 30, 2019. (Yonhap)

"I think both sides will do the prudent thing and take the pieces of what was on offer at Hanoi," Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, told Yonhap News Agency, referring to the last summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February, which ended without any agreement.

He suggested that Trump will accept North Korea's earlier offer to dismantle its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon and in exchange grant a one-year suspension of sanctions on North Korea's coal and textile exports.

"Trump needs to call it a suspension so he is not perceived back home as weak and taking the pressure off -- a necessity during an election cycle," Kazianis said, noting the president's 2020 reelection bid. "There would also need to be snap-back clauses to ensure if North Korea cheats, sanctions would be put back in place."

There has so far been little indication that either the U.S. or North Korea is ready for a compromise. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear in a tweet hours after the two leaders met inside the Demilitarized Zone that all sanctions on North Korea will remain in place "ahead of denuclearization."

Some analysts, however, have pinned hopes on the remarks of U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, who earlier this month said both sides understand the need for a "flexible approach."

"I think an agreement that envisions simultaneous progress on parallel tracks as indicated in the Singapore agreement is the next step, plus a clear definition of the scope of denuclearization," said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Then sequencing of implementation of those steps and timing and form of sanctions relief can be worked out."

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un cross the Military Demarcation Line into the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, on June 30, 2019. Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil. (Yonhap)

At their first summit in Singapore in June 2018, Trump and Kim agreed to improve bilateral relations and work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The North Koreans have since protested that the U.S. is making unilateral demands for denuclearization without showing much commitment to building trust between the Cold War foes.

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, disputed that argument.

"The diplomatic outreach to North Korea has not been cost free," he said. " Kim has benefited by Trump's constraining U.S. efforts to enforce U.N. and U.S. sanctions, canceling several allied military exercises putting deterrence and defense capabilities at risk, and undercutting North Korea's diplomatic isolation by embracing Kim, who, according to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, is responsible for crimes against humanity."

Klingner also cast the agreement to restart talks as merely a return to the starting line -- not progress in the denuclearization effort -- because Kim had already signed on to follow-up negotiations during the summit in Singapore.

"Since the Singapore summit, North Korea has not denuclearized as Trump claims, but instead expanded its nuclear arsenal and augmented nuclear and missile production facilities," he said. "There continues to be no evidence that Kim is willing to abandon his nuclear and missile arsenals."

Emerging from another meeting with Trump and Kim, Pompeo insisted that the North Korean leader is ready to deal.

"I left there with the recognition, I think, that Chairman Kim really wants to get something done, something very significant, that we want to do so in a timely way," he told reporters before departing Seoul.

"We don't know what path it'll head down," he added. "We're not where we were 12 months ago. We're further along than that."

hague@yna.co.kr
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