North Korea needs to ne­go­ti­ate with US

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Troy Stan­garone Troy Stan­garone ([email protected]) is the se­nior di­rec­tor of con­gres­sional af­fairs and trade at the Korea Eco­nomic In­sti­tute.

It has of­ten been said that the sign of a good deal is one that leaves nei­ther party com­pletely sat­is­fied. Find­ing that point, how­ever, re­quires give and take where each side re­ceives some­thing that it needs while also mak­ing sac­ri­fices.

With the break­down in talks be­tween the United States and North Korea in Stock­holm, how­ever, Py­ongyang looks in­creas­ingly un­in­ter­ested in the type of ne­go­ti­a­tions that might lead to an agree­ment.

The United States went into the Stock­holm talks with new pro­pos­als to ex­plore with its North Korean coun­ter­parts, and leaks about the specifics of those pro­pos­als sug­gest that they did bring new ideas to the ta­ble.

Yet after a day of talks North Korea’s lead ne­go­tia­tor Kim My­ong-gil when asked if the two sides would meet again soon told re­porters, “It has been al­most 100 days since the lead­ers’ meet­ing in Pan­munjeom and (the U.S. has) not pre­sented any new ini­tia­tive. Do you think they will come up with a new one in two weeks?”

Kim fur­ther sug­gested that it was up to the United States to move on its po­si­tion rather than North Korea. Peo­ple’s Armed Forces Vice Min­is­ter Kim Hy­ong-ry­ong sounded a sim­i­lar note, re­cently say­ing in Bei­jing that “the United States and the South Korean au­thor­i­ties must re­frain from any ac­tions dis­rupt­ing the sta­bil­ity of the sit­u­a­tion and come up with a new way for solv­ing the prob­lem.”

Yet there are no in­di­ca­tions that North Korea has put for­ward any new pro­pos­als of its own.

While play­ing hard­ball is a traditiona­l North Korean ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic, and Py­ongyang may hope that it gives it lever­age in the talks, it’s not con­ducive to reach­ing a deal. And time may be run­ning out.

Ear­lier this year North Korean leader Kim Jong-un set the end of the year as a dead­line to reach any deal, yet there have only been eight days of ne­go­ti­a­tions dur­ing the last 18 months.

De­spite Kim My­ong-gil’s sug­ges­tion, it has been Py­ongyang’s own re­luc­tance to meet with the United States that has slowed the talks. If Py­ongyang was se­ri­ous about reach­ing a deal, it would be meet­ing more fre­quently with the United States.

Con­trast North Korea’s ap­proach to talks with two other ma­jor di­plo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions cur­rently tak­ing place — Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war.

There was sig­nif­i­cant skep­ti­cism that Boris John­son and other pro-Brexit mem­bers of Par­lia­ment truly wanted a deal with the Euro­pean Union. But there was con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two sides and fre­quent meet­ings.

Even when the United King­dom was putting for­ward un­work­able so­lu­tions and play­ing its own ver­sion of hard­ball with the Euro­pean Union, it was at least en­gag­ing in diplo­macy. In the end, the United King­dom and the Euro­pean Union were able to reach an agree­ment to re­vise the terms of Brexit, pend­ing Par­lia­men­tary ap­proval.

Sim­i­larly, se­nior U.S. and Chi­nese of­fi­cials have met on a fairly fre­quent ba­sis to dis­cuss how to re­solve the on­go­ing trade con­flict be­tween the two coun­tries. While the talks have gone in fits and starts, and so far have only pro­duced the re­cent small deal, there is at least an on­go­ing ef­fort to solve the stand­off and both sides are putting for­ward pro­pos­als.

Per­haps the lack of talks re­flects a North Korean be­lief that they only need to deal with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, but the les­son of Hanoi is that there needs to be se­ri­ous work done on the work­ing level be­fore Kim and Trump can try to break any dead­locks. They could also re­flect a lack of se­ri­ous­ness on North Korea’s part.

While the U.S. pro­pos­als in Stock­holm may not have been ac­cept­able to North Korea, the process won’t work if Py­ongyang is un­able to put for­ward its own pro­pos­als so each side can be­gin to see where they can nar­row their dif­fer­ences.

In Hanoi, Py­ongyang put an of­fer on the ta­ble to dis­man­tle Yong­byon in ex­change for the lift­ing of the eco­nomic sanc­tions that have been im­posed since 2016. It would be help­ful for Py­ongyang to put for­ward new pro­pos­als for how to man­age the trade­off be­tween dis­man­tle­ment and sanc­tions re­lief, but also what types of se­cu­rity guar­an­tees it needs, what type of re­la­tion­ship it wants with the United States, and what type of eco­nomic fu­ture it wants after de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

If North Korea’s goal is for the United States to ne­go­ti­ate with it­self, the talks will fail, but if North Korea en­gages there may still be an op­por­tu­nity to reach a deal.

While Trump’s fu­ture is clouded by the cur­rent im­peach­ment in­quiry in the United States, his­tory sug­gests that if Py­ongyang were to reach a sub­stan­tive deal with the United States it would have a good chance of sur­viv­ing even Trump’s re­moval from of­fice.

North Korea is right that time may be run­ning out on reach­ing a deal, but it is Py­ongyang rather than Wash­ing­ton or Seoul that needs to think se­ri­ously about putting for­ward new ideas and what it is will­ing to con­cede.

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