Undated photo handed out by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Dec. 31, 2019 shows Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), addressing the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK in Pyongyang, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). (KCNA/Handout via Xinhua)

U.S.-DPRK summit off table for now

Despite Washington’s expressions of optimism over re-starting stalled talks with Pyongyang, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has shown a lack of interest. But it remains unclear whether negotiations will pick up down the road.

In a statement published Friday by the DPRK’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the younger sister of the DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong Un, said another summit with U.S. President Donald Trump was “useless” as it would only benefit Trump politically and “we have nothing to gain.”

“It is still my personal opinion, however, I doubt that things like the DPRK-U.S. summit would happen this year,” she said.

However, she added that it “does not necessarily mean the denuclearization is not possible. But what we mean is that it is not possible at this point of time.”

That followed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on Thursday that the United States is “very hopeful” about resuming talks with the DPRK.

“Realistically, there’s really no point to having a high-level meeting until there is a lot more progress on the working level or a significant change in concessions that the Trump administration is willing to put on the table,” Jenna Gibson, a Korea expert at the University of Chicago, told Xinhua.

“The Kims likely know this, and may be reluctant to engage in the summit process all over again until they are guaranteed to get concrete benefits out of it,” Gibson said.

At the same time, Pyongyang is not known for making negotiations easy. It’s entirely possible they are playing hard to get as a tactic to feel out how serious the Trump administration is about meeting again, and see what Trump is willing to put on the table if he is indeed serious about getting another summit this year, Gibson said.

“Especially with the election coming up in November, the DPRK is not the party on a timeline, and they have no reason to rush into another meeting,” Gibson said.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Kim Jong Un, top leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), meet at the Freedom House, a South Korean building in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom, June 30, 2019. (Xinhua/NEWSIS)

Trump and the DPRK’s top leader have engaged in person three times since 2018. But talks have stalled since their second summit, which took place in February 2019.

Some experts believed the DPRK is waiting until the U.S. elections have concluded, as U.S. policy toward Pyongyang could change if contender Joe Biden is elected president in November.

The DPRK “likely realizes that any agreement it reached with the Trump administration might not survive a Biden administration,” Troy Stangarone, senior director of congressional affairs and trade at the Washington-based non-profit Korea Economic Institute, told Xinhua.

Meeting with Trump prior to the U.S. elections is not to the DPRK’s advantage. For a summit to be successful, the two sides would need to avoid the failure of Hanoi and Trump would need to leave with clear DPRK concessions to make the summit domestically beneficial in the United States. “Something Pyongyang would be reluctant to do,” Stangarone said.

Kim Jong Un (C), top leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet at the truce village of Panmunjom on June 30, 2019. (Xinhua/NEWSIS)

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua that Pyongyang is “trying to get out of the current rut by provoking attention without being too belligerent towards Trump. They feel he has forgotten them, which is probably true.”

The Trump administration in recent months has been in overdrive, in a battle to defeat the COVID-19, to revive the economy after the nationwide lockdown, and to restore law and order after rioters and protesters have run wild.

Still, Stangarone said while a summit may be unlikely, it is not unreasonable to expect a resumption of working-level talks.

“Both sides would benefit from resuming dialogue. It would provide a means for discussing technical issues that could help advance the talks more quickly once the U.S. elections have settled who will lead the next U.S. administration,” Stangarone said. 

by Matthew Rusling