North Korea Nuke Talks Are Restarting This Week. Experts Are Not Hopeful of a Breakthrough

Trump's former National Security Advisor John Bolton says they're futile: Kim Jong-un "will never give up the nuclear weapons voluntarily."
October 1, 2019, 2:13pm
kim jong un

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

North Korea says it will restart nuclear talks with the U.S. this week in a surprise announcement after months of stalled negotiations between the two countries.

“It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-U.S. relations,” a spokesperson for the Pyongyang regime said.

First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said that Washington and Pyongyang had agreed to hold “preliminary contact on Oct. 4 and hold working-level negotiations on Oct. 5,” though he didn't mention who'd be meeting or where the talks would take place.

The State Department confirmed that a meeting between the two sides would happen in the next week but offered no other details.

Talks to advance denuclearization on the Korean peninsula have been at a standstill since the February summit in Hanoi where U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from the negotiating table because North Korea demanded that sanctions were lifted prior to getting rid of their nuclear weapons.

Despite the failure of the Hanoi summit, Trump has continued to boast about his close relationship with Kim. But his former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, said this week that he disagreed with his former boss’ strategy on North Korea, claiming Kim would never give up his nukes.

“Under current circumstances, he will never give up the nuclear weapons voluntarily," Bolton said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, on Monday, adding that Kim would do “whatever he can” to maintain North Korea’s nuclear status.

North Korea analysts and experts echo Bolton’s belief that Kim is unlikely to give up his nukes and believe the same hurdles remain that derailed negotiations back in February..

READ: North Korea Said It Wants to Restart Nuclear Talks. Then It Tested Two More Missiles.

“I wouldn't hold my breath for anything significantly different,” Tong Zhao, a North Korea expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, told VICE News. “North Korea has not publicly indicated a willingness to offer more or demand less from what was put on the table in Hanoi.”

While Trump and Kim can talk about high-level diplomatic relationships and mutual respect, officials engaged in the nitty-gritty of working-level talks will need to hammer out the real details of a possible nuclear deal.

“At the working-level negotiations, the two sides will have to struggle over more substantive issues, including sanctions relief and security guarantee,” Tong added. ”The prospects for making breakthroughs on these core issues do not look particularly brighter than during the Hanoi summit.”

READ: North Korea Is Building Its Own Bitcoin

Steve Tsang, director of London’s SOAS China Institute, told VICE News, agrees that the chances of progress at these talks being made are limited.

“There is little incentive for either negotiating teams to make concessions for a deal since everything will ultimately depend on Trump reaching some kind of agreement with Kim,” Tsang said.

The departure of Bolton, who had advocated for regime change inside North Korea, could theoretically make talks easier, given North Korea welcomed news of his departure earlier this month.

READ: Trump Just Fired National Security Advisor John Bolton

“With Bolton gone, we may have some intermediate agreements that see North Korea freezing its current nuclear capabilities in exchange for the partial lift of economic sanctions,” Baohui Zhang, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, told VICE News

But in the end, most experts agree that North Korea is unlikely to give up its hard-earned nuclear weapons and that will once again be a sticking point to get substantive progress at these talks.

“Whether North Korea is willing to denuclearize in the end remains uncertain,” Baohui said. “Theoretically, full trust between them could lead to North Korea's willingness to give up its nuclear weapons. However, the trust-building process, practiced by Trump, is very fragile and easily reversible. So people should not be overly optimistic about the eventual denuclearization of North Korea.”

Cover: In this Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a multiple rocket launcher site at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)