Kim Jong Un is demanding Washington make the “bold move” of signing a permanent peace treaty that secures Kim’s position as leader of North Korea before committing to denuclearization, a White House official told CNN in a report published Monday.
Despite the White House giving Kim a high-profile summit in Singapore last month and suspending U.S. military war games with South Korea, the despot reportedly wants more.
Kim’s brinkmanship is responsible for a growing sense of frustration within the West Wing, according to officials speaking to the Washington Post, with the president upset at a lack of progress toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula since the Singapore declaration was signed on June 12.
According to the Washington Post report, North Korea has yet to destroy the missile-testing facility as part of the “deal” with Trump, and has canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money, and failed to maintain basic communications with U.S. diplomats.
“I’m in no real rush,” Trump told members of the media last week when asked about North Korean denuclearization, but reports from inside the Oval Office claim the U.S. president is lashing out at aides for a lack of progress.
The regime’s push for a comprehensive peace treaty to replace the armistice it signed in 1953 to end the Korean War suggests Pyongyang believes it has the upper hand in negotiations with Washington.
“It's a sure sign that Pyongyang sees Trump's concession to freeze ROK-U.S. military exercises and his attacks on alliance costs as weaknesses that it will exploit,” John Hemmings, Asia director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, told VICE News.
North Korea may view a peace treaty as the first step toward removing U.S. forces from the Peninsula, but it is the very presence of those troops that has helped maintain a continuing — if fragile — peace in the region.
“A peace treaty would be a concession to the North,” Robert Kelly, an expert in inter-Korean affairs, told VICE News. “The peninsula is peaceful now; deterrence is stable. A treaty is really about recognition. If we give that, we should get something back.”
That “something” is likely to be more concrete steps toward denuclearization, especially after an official U.S. intelligence assessment — leaked to the media last month — revealed that Pyongyang has been deceiving the Trump administration about the size, scale, and continuation of the nuclear weapons program that Trump assured the world North Korea had abandoned.
Any peace treaty would require the support of at least two-thirds of the Senate, and while there has been some talk of a swift agreement being signed, analysts have said that such an agreement should be introduced on a phased basis and pegged to real steps being taken on the denuclearization issue.
But for Kim, denuclearization is low down his list of priorities. The four-point Singapore summit declaration listed denuclearization third behind improving bilateral political relations and creating a peace regime on the Peninsula.
“I think Kim Jong Un feels he has done enough to deserve a substantial reward from the United States,” Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, told VICE News. “For Kim, he needs to see real progress on these two items before he makes further concessions on the denuclearization issue, which is only the third item on the Singapore agreement. I don't believe Kim is talking about any fundamental quid pro quo that would result in North Korea's nuclear disarmament in the near-term future.”
Hemmings agrees with this assessment.
“The fact that North Korea is saying that it will not proceed with negotiations unless there is a peace treaty will make all North Korea-watchers groan,” he said. “In essence, it reveals their strategic intentions and rather kills the hope that Singapore would somehow lead to a process of denuclearization.”
Kim is eager to get sanctions removed, given that recent figures show the country’s economy is tanking. By focusing on the first two goals agreed upon in Singapore, Kim will be hoping that the West will relax some of the biting economic measures that are killing his country’s chances of economic growth.
“In comparison, measures to continue improving bilateral political relations and to work toward a peace regime are more achievable and can further help North Korea get away from the current international isolation,” Zhao said. “When political relations continue to improve, the prospects for the gradual relaxation of economic sanctions would become greater too. To move in this direction, I believe North Korea wants to secure a joint political declaration of the ending of the Korean War as its next foreign policy goal.”
Cover image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un looks at his document at a signing ceremony with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)