Maybe they were never really bolted on in the first place, but in recent weeks it looks very clear that the wheels have come off whatever was agreed to or understood between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore. As bilateral negotiation efforts falter and North Korea returns to its pugnacious pronouncements of the evils and deceitfulness of U.S. policy, the question now is where to go from here. Of particular concern is whether “maximum pressure,” as the Trump administration sanctions program was dubbed, can be revived, and whether Washington can muster the diplomacy to ensure that the regional players are on board for what could be a bumpy ride ahead.
When Trump agreed to a summit with his North Korean counterpart, the initiative was widely hailed as a welcome departure from angry threats, a Nobel Peace Prize–worthy effort to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis through dialogue. It was music to the ears of many, especially to South Korea, where talk of war—from a U.S. administration no less—can be particularly alarming.
But in the ensuing implementation and follow-up, Singapore may turn out to have done more harm than good. To date, almost three months after the summit, there is scant evidence that North Korea is prepared to abandon its nuclear programs on an acceptable time frame, certainly not on National Security Adviser John Bolton’s one-year schedule or on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s seemingly more generous two-year term. Instead, North Korea has returned to the tired demand that what it needs before moving toward denuclearization is some kind of proof that the United States has abandoned its “hostile policy.” In the past, Pyongyang has been vague on what would constitute sufficient proof of this abandonment. But in Singapore and in the various track two negotiations that have followed it, it seems increasingly to come down to signing a peace treaty or normalization agreement that would eventually
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