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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 14)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:40 February 14, 2020

Dimming prospects of talks
: Trump puts nuclear negotiations on backburner

The denuclearization dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington is expected to remain deadlocked until the November U.S. presidential election. The long-term hiatus in nuclear disarmament negotiations between the two countries will be inevitable as President Donald Trump has put top priority on his re-election.

It is understandable that Trump can now ill afford to spend much time and energy on the nuclear issue due to his strenuous efforts to extend his term for another four years. He has shifted his focus to domestic issues to boost his re-election bid, especially after he was acquitted of impeachment charges Feb. 5.

Unfortunately, the nuclear talks have now been put on the backburner. Trump has oftentimes boasted about Pyongyang's moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests as a major foreign policy achievement after he held the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018. But the negotiations hit a snag following the Hanoi summit in February 2019 due to differences over the scope of denuclearization and reciprocal sanctions relief.

A recent realignment of Trump's nuclear negotiation team has also cast a dark cloud over prospects for the North's denuclearization. Stephen Biegun, who led negotiations with Pyongyang as special representative for North Korea, has been promoted to deputy secretary of state. His promotion may have an adverse effect on the nuclear talks because he has to deal with many other issues with other countries around the globe.

Last month, Mark Lambert, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, was also assigned to a new position. This week, Alex Wong, the deputy U.S. special representative for the North, was tapped as a representative to the United Nations. Their departure is seen as a setback to the team dealing with North Korea. It is feared to weaken the team's negotiating capacity, prolonging the current impasse in the talks.

Of course, the core problem is that Trump has little incentive to resume the stalled negotiations with Pyongyang. He seems to prefer to maintain the status quo as far as the North's nuclear disarmament is concerned. In other words, he is not willing to actively engage with the North; nor is he ready to risk betting on the complete denuclearization of the recalcitrant country.

According to media reports, Trump made clear that he would not have another summit with Kim before the presidential election. He made no mention of North Korea during his State of the Union address, indicating his diminished interest in the denuclearization talks.

Chairman Kim is certainly well aware of Trump's policy shift. Kim has already threatened to take a new path unless the U.S. gives up its maximum pressure and sanctions against the North. He even warned of a new strategic weapons test. Against this backdrop, Pyongyang has returned to its "byeongjin" policy of simultaneously pursuing its nuclear weapons program and economic development.

The prolonged stalemate will deal a blow to President Moon Jae-in's policy of active engagement with the North. It remains to be seen whether Moon can keep the dialogue momentum not only for inter-Korean reconciliation but also for the North's denuclearization.
(END)

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