Asia Pacific / Politics

U.S. and South Korea considering carrots for Kim to spur progress in nuclear talks

Bloomberg, Reuters, Kyodo

The U.S. and South Korea are discussing “corresponding measures” to reward North Korea’s steps toward denuclearization, South Korea’s foreign minister said, as President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un prepare for a possible second summit.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told a news conference Wednesday in Seoul that the allies were reviewing various packages of incentives that Washington could bring to the table in the meeting. While Kang provided few details other than to say restarting stalled business projects were being discussed, the term can cover everything from sanctions relief to moves to formalize the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Between South Korea and the United States, we are closely consulting what kinds of denuclearization measures should be followed and what the United States and the international community can do as corresponding measures,” she said at a New Year’s news conference. She said she expected nuclear talks to pick up speed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed Wednesday that Kim Yong Chol — a senior North Korean official who last year delivered Kim Jong Un’s letter to Trump before their first summit — will transit through Beijing on Thursday en route to another location. CNN reported earlier that Kim Yong Chol was due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Washington this week.

Negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have sputtered since Trump and Kim Jong Un signed an agreement during their first meeting in June to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” without defining the phrase or setting any deadlines. North Korea argues the deal implied a step-by-step approach, where each of its actions are met by U.S. responses, while Trump administration officials assert that Kim Jong Un accepted his country’s “final, fully verified denuclearization.”

Kim Jong Un warned in his New Year’s address this month that he could be forced to take a “new path” in talks if Trump didn’t relax sanctions pressure. He pressed for U.S. concessions to reward his decisions last year to halt weapons tests and dismantle some testing facilities, without offering additional steps.

“If the United States takes a credible action in response to our proactive and preemptive efforts and responds to the corresponding measures, the relationship between the two countries will move forward at a good and rapid pace through the process of taking more certain and innovative steps,” Kim Jong Un said on Jan. 1.

While South Korea wasn’t independently considering resuming cooperation projects at a North Korean mountain resort or the joint factory park in the North, Kang said such moves were part of the “various combination of corresponding measures” being discussed. “Details of the results will be generated during the negotiations between North Korea and the United States,” she said.

“The North could demand the opening of a liaison office as part of steps to normalize diplomatic ties, a halt of joint military exercises with the South and a resumption of the business and tour ventures,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“For Washington, it would be critical to secure the North’s agreement to collect samples, not just let in experts, which is key to inspection.”

Separately, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, who handles nuclear weapons issues and negotiations with the United States, arrived at Beijing’s airport Tuesday on a flight from Pyongyang.

She told reporters that she would be attending an “international conference in Sweden,” but speculation is rife that Choe will interact with the U.S. side in Sweden or she will change her destination and visit the United States with Kim Yong Chol.

The focus is on whether Choe and Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative to North Korea, will hold working-level talks to discuss concrete steps toward denuclearization, diplomatic sources in Beijing said.

Pompeo, who made several trips to Pyongyang last year, had planned to meet Kim Yong Chol in November in New York, but the talks were called off at the last minute.