Why Kim Jong-un Should Return To The Negotiating Table

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has given out an ultimatum to the United States, warning that his country will soon unveil a new strategic weapon in its effort to strengthen its nuclear arsenal. According to North Korea’s Central News Agency, Kim made it clear that “he will never allow the impudent U.S to abuse Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – U.S dialogue for meeting its sordid aim but will shift to a shocking actual action to make it pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained.”

The dictator further warned that “If the U.S persists in its hostile policy towards the DPRK, there will never be denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop the necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the US rolls back its hostile policy.”

History Of Recent US-North Korea Negotiations

Kim and US President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but no headway has been made after the two leaders failed to reach an agreement at the Vietnam summit in February of 2019. At the summit North Korea demanded the broad lifting of sanctions in exchange for partial surrender of its nuclear program but this was rejected by Washington. Since then the two leaders have been engaging in mockery, threats, war games and name calling.

The point of disagreement between the two leaders centers around the scope of the term denuclearization. Kim is offering to dismantle his nuclear program only if the United States withdraws its nuclear umbrella from South Korea and offers other major economic, diplomatic and security concessions.

Kim’s Denuclearization Double-Talk

It appears Kim is not really genuine about the denuclearization and has only been talking about it to win concessions from the US. Trump has repeatedly insisted that the US is willing to engage with Pyongyang in a rigorous process of negotiating a serious agreement with a strong denuclearization component, something North Koreans have not conclusively committed themselves to. Instead, North Korea’ s ambassador to the UN Kim Song described negotiations as a time-saving trick by the Americans

According to many observers, Kim’s aim is to gain new ground with the US, by getting diplomatic engagement with Washington, and to have sanctions lifted after which he may retain his nuclear program. This is  evident from the way Kim has been faltering about the question of denuclearization. At first he agreed to denuclearize but this changed to partial denuclearization, and on December 7 his ambassador to the UN Kim Song said denuclearization is now off the table. This was reaffirmed in the new year statement attributed to Kim declaring that the Hermit Kingdom will never give up its security for economic gains.

Compromise Is A Difficult – But Necessary – Path

These are very difficult concessions for both Kim and Trump to make. For Kim it is about the security and the existence of North Korea. He fears that America will turn against him after convincing him to get rid of his nuclear weapons. On the hand, Washington feels that the existence of North Korea’s nuclear program is a threat to global security and must be dismantled.

Looking at it from a neutral  perspective, North Korea has more to gain from its talks with the US and by dismantling its nuclear program. Any deal with America will be beneficial to Kim politically and will also come with economic benefits for his country.

Politically a deal would also help Kim legitimize his leadership and to gain recognition as well as shaping his legacy. Economically it will help him deliver the economic reforms he had promised his people in 2011 and uplift their standard of living. It would also open the door for funds from the World Bank and IMF and attract foreign investors.

The Impact Of Sanctions On North Korea

Because of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations on North Korea, other countries are limited in their ability to engage with North Korea economically. In 2018, the US imposed further targeted sanctions on Chinese and Russian companies for engaging with the dictatorship. Such sanctions hurt the ordinary North Koreans but can only be removed if Kim drops his hard-line position and returns to the negotiating table.

Perhaps the most affected areas by these sanctions are business and trade relations between North and South Korea. According to South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, economic cooperation between the two countries could be worth at least $149.9 billion over the next 30 years if relations are normalized. But this is being hindered by sanctions.

South Korea Wants A Relationship With North Korea

Moon knows how this could be beneficial to both countries and has expressed hope for speedy progress in talks so that North and South Korea can resume economic relations.

“When the deep-rooted distrust between the two Koreas and between the North and the United States is lifted, the mutual agreement can be implemented ,” Jae-in said. “When peace is established on the Korean peninsula along with complete denuclearization, economic cooperation can be carried out in earnest.”

Moon’s other plans include building a railroad linking his country with North Korea and a joint industrial park, but he has been cautious about any move forward on the projects because of international sanctions .

North Korea Needs To Make Some Concessions To Move Forward

Clearly North Korea is losing out on many fronts, and that’s why Kim must drop his nuked ego and talk to America. After all what is the point of having nukes over a starving and malnourished population? The answer is that it’s not very worthwhile. And how beneficial would it be to get rid of the nukes, but have donor funds, foreign investment, and also engage in bilateral trade without restrictions? The answer is very beneficial.

If anything, there is a drive by the United Nations for countries to ban nuclear weapons. Although some may call it a pipe dream, who knows? Maybe in the near future the entire world will be nuclear free. Of course North Korea will need some security guarantees in case it gets rid of its nuclear weapons, but that will only happen if Kim first commits himself to negotiations instead of test-firing weapons to try to blackmail the United States and gain concessions.