By Ssemanda Allawi
After Negotiators of both United States of America (USA) and Democratic people’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) abruptly ended their nuclear talks after just hours in Sweden’s capital Stockholm without any agreement, on Saturday 5th, through ministry of Foreign Affairs, DPRK issued a statement announcing that they would not return to what they called “sickening Talks.” The statement added that resumption to such talks would only happen USA showed serious commitment, “complete and irreversible withdraw of hostile policy” towards DPRK.
While DPRK was quick to announce what seems to be its stand, USA’s state department responded with what appeared to be a carefully worded statement expressing hope that Trump’s diplomatic signature initiative was still alive.
Aware that Trump administration seems to be interested in getting a deal — Trump likes to be seen as a man who is good at making deals, DPRK seems to have read well Trump’s book “Art of the Deal”; that sometimes you have to walk away, a trick Trump believes can make the other party accept some concessions. Pyongyang negotiators walked away from bilateral talks in Stockholm citing similar reasons as was the case during Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi Vietnam in February this year when DPRK accused USA of offering no concession and maintaining a hostile policy towards Pyongyang despite being in talks.
From look of things, USA negotiators seem not to have learnt anything from Hanoi talks which DPRK walked out after the USA demanded DPRK close Yongbyon nuclear site without agreeing to partial sanctions relief which DPRK saw as unfair. To DPRK, demanding they dismantle their nukes sites without offering them tangible security guarantees is not only unfair but also puts them on disadvantage.
DPRK is aware that Trump has been using these negotiations as his diplomatic signature and that he is faced with challenges at home including impeachment inquiry. It means getting a deal with North Korea would give Mr. Trump media attention at home and a political mileage to outshine his home woes, presenting him as successful in foreign policy and diplomacy. One can therefore argue that DPRK push is tactical meant to use Trump woes at home to gain leverage if negotiations are to continue.
Arguably, the Trump administration’s recent history in regard to respecting agreements the USA and other parties sign makes DPRK sceptical. To DPRK negotiators, it maybe still be fresh in their minds that on 08th may 2018, Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commonly known as “Iran Nuclear Deal” which was negotiated by all World’s major powers claiming it was a bad deal despite USA having played a key role in all stages. Relatedly, on 1st June 2017, Mr. Trump announced that USA would withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change mitigation, an agreement signed within the United Nations Framework Convention. Trump argued the agreement undermines USA’s economy.
With such record of withdrawing from international agreements reached and fully signed by the USA’s government, one can argue that DPRK finds it very hard to trust Trump Administration’s commitment to any deal reached on DPRK’s nuclear program especially that one of key demands is that DPRK destroys her nuclear production facility before sanctions are lifted.
DPRK feels insecure to give up on her weapons when they still strongly feel that USA has not provided them with security assurance especially that USA’s agreement for a joint military exercises with South Korea with DPRK considers as provocative and preparations for war still stands.
Therefore, quagmire and logjam Trump administration is facing over dismantling of DPRK’s nukes can be traced from the very administration’s recent record of withdrawing from agreements the country committed to abide.
Ssemanda Allawi, PhD Candidate, International Relations & Diplomacy,
Associate Director: Centre for Global, Policy & Strategic Studies.