North Korea: A Very Awkward DPRK Demand

Published on May 24, 2018

The spin game is now well underway to assign responsibility for the surprise announcement today by President Donald Trump to cancel his much-awaited summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un that was scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

*** Chinese officials were unaware as recently as this morning that the summit between the two leaders was going to be cancelled by President Trump. Indeed, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just yesterday, Wednesday, to deliver a message coordinated with Pyongyang that Kim Jong-Un would not cancel his meeting with Trump. ***

*** However, we understand that among the demands laid out by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was an awkward insistence the Korean Peninsula deal explicitly reference the Iran denuclearization model – or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 2015 — in the “phased and synchronous steps” to be taken by the US. ***

*** This is not the first time the Chinese pointed to the JCPOA, and they previously conveyed its explicit reference as a key Pyongyang condition. Adopted by the United Nations Security Council in July of 2015, but abrogated by the Trump Administration on May 12, any reference to the JCPOA was gravely unwelcomed by the White House. ***

No Deal Better Than JCPOA

Indeed, Chinese security officials have pointed to the JCPOA template in private, maintaining that any deal Trump would reach with North Korea, if it were to be backed by China and Russia, should not and would not be better for the US than the deal former President Obama struck with the then-isolated Iran.

Whether true or not, or intended more for an audience in Beijing and Pyongyang, such an assertion hardened into a “red-line” demand would clearly fly in the face of the Trump Administration’s political and strategic objectives. To whatever extent this one point among many may have colored the latest internal discussions in the White House that led to today’s breaking off of the summit, it certainly would not have helped. 

In many ways, it was as serious a miscalculation by Beijing and Pyongyang as Vice President Mike Pence’s doubling down of National Security Advisor John Bolton’s reference to the “Libya Model.” 

It was a bizarre and ill-advised, if not deliberately provocative, suggestion that Kim Jong-Un could share the fate of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, who as a reminder, was in 2011 found and dragged out of a culvert, beaten viciously, sodomized, and shot. 

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