The Korean Peninsula denuclearisation process took another hit on Saturday when talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States broke down in Stockholm.
The chief DPRK negotiator attributed the setback to the US not discarding its “old stance and attitude” and coming to the negotiating table with an “empty hand”. Pyongyang also said on Sunday it is not willing to hold further negotiations until Washington abandons its “hostile policy”.
The frustration is understandable given that little, if any, progress has been made since DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump held their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.
Pyongyang began dialogue with Washington in the hope that it would get some economic and political benefits for its denuclearisation initiatives that included suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests and the closing of its underground nuclear testing site.
Yet the response from the US has so far been lukewarm. Punitive sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since 2008 remain in place, and joint military drills between the US and the Republic of Korea, although scaled down, continue to draw the DPRK’s anger because it sees them as a rehearsal for invasion.
Washington insists that Pyongyang will be rewarded only after “final and fully verified denuclearisation” is achieved, a precondition that the DPRK has rejected outright as a unilateral concession on its part.
A deep mistrust born out of decades of animosity and military confrontation makes it impossible for Pyongyang to completely abandon a nuclear programme that it has worked so hard to build without an absolute guarantee of its national security from Washington.
Trump’s verbal promise that the DPRK will enjoy economic prosperity in return for abandoning its nuclear weapons programme is just not convincing enough if it is not backed by tangible support such as the lifting of sanctions.
Trump has presented his engagement with the DPRK leader as a historic diplomatic breakthrough. That may explain why he has played down a series of missile tests the DPRK has conducted since May. But the continuous stalemate on the nuclear issue is not adding any marks to his scorecard.
The DPRK negotiators have said the ball is now in Washington’s court. As the much stronger party, it would not hurt the US to take one step further to ease the DPRK’s existential worries, at least to give Pyongyang a chance to prove that it is really sincere about making the peninsula nuclear-free. China Daily