North Korean officials and state-run media organs still have not confirmed that dictator Kim Jong-un’s offer to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump is genuine, a silence South Korean officials attributed to “caution” and Pyongyang needing time to “organize its stance.”
So said South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun at a news conference on Sunday, as he announced his agency has not “seen or received an official response from the North Korean regime regarding the North Korea-U.S. summit.”
“Organizing its stance” seems to mean North Korea is checking with its few allies and patrons before finalizing the offer of a summit with Trump, which originated in remarks Kim Jong-un made to visiting South Korean envoys.
The head of that South Korean delegation, National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday and will head to Moscow on Tuesday. After the meeting, President Xi expressed support for talks between North Korea and the United States, declaring China is “on the same page” as South Korea on matters of peninsular security.
“I support the U.S.-North Korea talks. I am delighted that South Korea’s efforts have made great progress in the overall Korean Peninsula situation and that close dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. has been achieved,” Xi told Chung, according to South Korean officials.
North Korea could also be delaying its response to prepare the political battlespace by creating distance between the U.S. and its allies and ensuring Pyongyang’s long list of grievances is on the table before talks begin. For example, North Korean media is silent about the Trump-Kim summit but boiling with rage at Japan, which is practicing “mendicant diplomacy” by spewing “stupid gibberish” at Asian and European ministers to convince them to maintain diplomatic and economic pressure against North Korea.
“It is a miserable plight of Japan to dance to the tune of the U.S. master for the pressure on the DPRK. That is why the Japanese diplomacy is also mendicant one pursuant to the scenario written by the U.S.,” raged North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun over the weekend. DPRK is the North Korean government’s name for itself.
Pacific Forum CSIS research fellow Andray Abrahamian suggested to the BBC that Pyongyang “wants to wait to see how the offer was received in Washington,” which might well have included taking the pulse of America’s political and media elite by absorbing a few days of news coverage and watching the Sunday talk shows.
“There’s already been a bit of confusion in the messaging from the White House so it probably makes sense to get some of the ground rules established before go public with it,” said Abrahamian.
Pundits of the left and right spent the weekend castigating Trump as an egotistical fool for believing his personal charm and unique deal-making skills will help him succeed where three presidents before him have failed. Why would Kim speak up while his prospective negotiating partner is getting tenderized by his own nation’s media in advance of the summit?
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty and skepticism right now,” former CIA official Joseph R. DeTrani told the Washington Times on Sunday.
The Washington Times ventures that North Korea’s radio silence on the summit “prompted some uncomfortable moments over the weekend for administration officials defending Mr. Trump’s announcement that he believes a meeting could happen by the end of May.”
Creating such discomfort would be a good reason in and of itself for Pyongyang to delay its official response to the summit proposal. A message of acceptance sent immediately would have been seen as a huge diplomatic victory for President Trump during a crucial weekend news cycle.
DeTrani, who served as a U.S. envoy to talks with Pyongyang in 2009, expressed frustration with North Korea’s coy behavior:
The South Korean delegation that met with him said the North Koreans indicated they’re prepared to talk denuclearization if they’re given certain security assurances. The South Korean delegation that met with him said the North Koreans indicated they’re prepared to talk denuclearization if they’re given certain security assurances. Well, what are they? Define it. Is it a peace treaty? Is it ultimately dialogue toward normalization with the United States? Is it the removal of American troops from South Korea? What do you mean, Kim Jong-un, when you speak about ‘security assurances’?
The Washington Times also cites criticism from Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, who was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs when President George W. Bush tried using diplomacy to defuse North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Hill argued that Trump has “already made a major concession” to North Korea by agreeing to talks without preconditions beyond merely expecting Kim to refrain from further nuclear and missile testing until May.
As Hill saw it, North Korea agreed to denuclearize years ago, so the summit with Trump will amount to Kim extracting more concessions and payoffs as the price for honoring an agreement he already made. From this perspective, North Korea is enjoying a significant propaganda coup by getting the U.S. government to take the summit offer seriously and has little reason to do anything but sit back and enjoy the show.
The summit may be complicated with issues tacked on from the Western side as well. For instance, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights for North Korea Ojea Quintana said on Monday that Pyongyang should “consolidate” its diplomatic rapprochement with South Korea and the world community by creating a “parallel opening to human rights review.”
“My main message today is that any advancement on the security dialogue should be accompanied by a parallel expansion on the human rights dialogue,” Quintana told the U.N. Human Rights Council at a meeting pointedly avoided by the North Korean delegation.