By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. expert said Wednesday that he does not rule out the possibility the United States and North Korea will resume diplomacy in the coming months and reach an interim nuclear deal.
Washington and Pyongyang have not made progress in their denuclearization negotiations since an unproductive February 2019 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
But Victor Cha, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggested there is still hope for an agreement and another meeting between Trump and Kim before March.
"I would not rule out the possibility, at least maybe for the next couple of months, that there could be some sort of turn to diplomacy," he said during a seminar hosted by the think tank. "I know it doesn't look like it right now because of all the things that the North Koreans have said, threatening (intercontinental ballistic missile) tests and everything, but this is the one issue where President Trump personally has invested a lot of personal diplomacy and a lot of personal capital."
Cha also said Trump is someone who does not want to admit failure and would therefore take an interim deal and talk about it as if it's the best deal ever.
Trump and Kim had agreed during their first summit in Singapore in June 2018 to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for U.S. security guarantees. The leaders met twice more but failed to bridge their gaps on how much the North should denuclearize in order to receive sanctions relief and other concessions from the U.S.
Cha suggested that North Korea could want to return to negotiations while Trump is still in office.
"The North Koreans are watching our election as well," he said, referring to the U.S. presidential poll in November. "And if they can get some sort of phase-one deal on their own, where there's a partial lifting of sanctions for some sort of temporary freeze on facilities that they don't really use anymore anyway, that would be a good place for them to be to wait out the results of the U.S. elections."
In choosing March as the possible timeline for another meeting between Trump and Kim, Cha noted the springtime military exercises between South Korea and the U.S.
"I think (Trump's) inclination is not to do those because he considers them to be too expensive anyway," he said, adding that a phase-one deal would only require partial sanctions relief with a snapback provision and the freezing of some nuclear facilities the North Koreans don't need anyway.
"That is far from optimal, but it could still be trumpeted by some people as the best deal ever," he said.
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