North Korea: Talks on Track Despite JCPOA Pullout

Published on May 9, 2018

The objective of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip today to Pyongyang was to lay the groundwork for a successful historic summit between the US and North Korean leaders that we believe will be held shortly in Panmunjom, on the border of North and South Korea, marked by the release of three US hostages held by the North Korean regime (see SGH 4/27/18, “North Korea: A Secret Visit from Beijing”).

We believe the White House also timed Pompeo’s trip to ensure that upcoming nuclear negotiations with North Korea would not be derailed by President Donald Trump’s controversial decision yesterday to withdraw completely from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord with Iran.

*** Despite what is likely to be a prolonged and contentious fallout now between the US and key allies over Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA accord and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran, all the major parties to the North Korea talks are ready to proceed as planned with the summit and negotiations over the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. ***

*** At a two-day meeting hosted in the Dangchuidao Guesthouse in Dalian, in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, China’s President Xi Jinping assured North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un that the Iranian nuclear issue was different from the Korean nuclear issue. Xi assured Kim that were the US to cancel or suspend an agreement with the DPRK, under any pretext, China would firmly support and stand with North Korea. In a way, he is reported to have said, that means China would ultimately back-stop the DPRK’s nuclear program. ***

*** In their discussions, Kim stressed to Xi at least four times that the US must work with the DPRK to take “phased and synchronous measures,” in a responsible manner, to eventually achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the peninsula, and Xi agreed. If, Kim stressed, Trump were to refuse to abide by the “phased and synchronous” roadmap, talks would fail.  Xi assured him he would persuade the US President to do so. ***

In addition, Kim detailed the DPRK’s major positions to Xi, stressing to the Chinese president that it has been his consistent and clear desire and stance all along to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

So long as relevant parties agreed to abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against the DPRK, Kim stated, there would be no need for North Korea to be a nuclear state, and denuclearization could be realized. But, any roadmap for de-escalation with the US would have to be “phased” and “synchronous.”

In addition to coordinating positions on the upcoming nuclear summit and the impact on North Korea of Iran, Kim and Xi discussed the DPRK’s “open policy” and cooperation between the two countries on the economic and trade fronts.

At the end of the meeting, Kim thanked Xi for his support, and expressed with pleasure that the economic and trade relationship with China was already booming. Xi reconfirmed China’s support for the DPRK, and for Kim’s efforts to shift strategic focus on economic construction, promising him that China would surely be the biggest investor in North Korea in the future.

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