Why does North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seem ready to negotiate with the United States now?

Why does North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seem ready to negotiate with the United States now?


Donald Trump has it clear.

If anything has changed North Korea in recent months, it is the pressure against Pyongyang driven by its government.

Shortly after South Korea announced that its neighbor in the North is willing to negotiate its denuclearization provided that the stability of the regime is guaranteed , the US president claimed the victory of that change of position.

“Me,” he responded Tuesday at a press conference after being asked about the reasons behind Pyongyang’s conciliatory tone.

“The sanctions have been very, very strong, they have had a lot of impact,” he went on to highlight China’s “great help” to contain its neighbor and its hope that North Korea is being sincere.

Kim Jong and Chung Eui-yong
Copyright of the REUTERS image
Image caption Kim Jong-un met Monday with South Korean diplomats in Pyongyang.

The truth is that, given the opacity of the North Korean regime, the experts do not agree on a single reason that explains the sudden willingness of Kim Jong-un to negotiate, although they expose a series of arguments that may have motivated this last turn (and some of they point to Trump).

“Real pressure”

One of the factors that may have pushed Pyongyang to return to the dialogue is the multiple and harsh sanctions that weigh on the country, according to some observers.

In 2017, the UN Security Council imposed up to three rounds of sanctions on North Korea, the last of them last December, announced by Washington as the “toughest to date” with a restriction of almost 90. % of the supply of refined petroleum products to the Asian nation .

China, the main economic partner of North Korea, undertook to comply with the sanctions one hundred percent and the United States continued in parallel to increase the pressure, with other unilateral measures.


  • Nikki Haley
  • Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES
Image caption TheUnited States pushed the UN sanctions against North Korea to try to stop its arms advances.

It is difficult to verify the effects in the North Korean economy of these actions, because the economic growth of the country is unknown last year, but an analysis of the Council of Foreign Relations, a US think tank, points out that until now the impact had been “mixed ”

However, he predicts that the sanctions approved at the end of last year could have a “greater potential impact” .

“The sanctions are exerting real pressure on the regime,” Abraham Denmark, who worked in the past for the Pentagon in Asian affairs and now directs the Asian program of the Wilson Center, told BBC World.

Denmark, however, considers that there is another crucial factor: the successes achieved by Pyongyang in 2017.

From peer to peer

“North Korea has made tremendous progress in its nuclear and missile program,” said Denmark, referring to North Korea’s successful missile and nuclear tests last year.

His sixth nuclear test, the launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles supposedly capable of reaching the entire US territory and the development of solid fuel missiles are an example of this.

“They have achieved the technical capacity they wanted,” says Michael Madden, an expert on North Korean leadership and director of the specialized page NK Leadership Watch .

Technical advances have opened a window for Pyongyang, according to Madden, because they allow the regime to negotiate on equal terms, confident that their weapons will be a deterrent for Washington.

New airs in the south

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who agreed to the post last year, is another of the key figures in this new political scenario, according to analysts consulted by BBC World.

Already in campaign, Moon pleaded for a greater approach with the North and, in spite of some critics within his country, is fulfilling the promises .

South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption The South Korean president invited North Korea to the Olympic Games and there both nations paraded under the same banner. (In the photo, Moon waving during the Olympics with Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the US president).

The thaw between the two Koreas was materialized during the Winter Olympic Games held in South Korea, the so-called “Peace Games”, and these contacts led to the recent agreement between the two countries to hold a summit of leaders in March and détente with Washington.

“It has achieved what it promised, but if it will lead to permanent denuclearization (of the peninsula) it is still a question, ” says Lisa Collins, specialist in Korean affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). in English).

Collins admits to having a pessimistic view on the real motives of North Korea and does not rule out that Pyongyang’s offer is just a strategy to achieve an “economic respite” and even undermine the US alliance. and South Korea.


A “complex surgery”

Waiting for North Korea to rule officially, as the announcement that Pyongyang is willing to sit down to negotiate for the moment only came from South Korean diplomats, veteran security expert Jim Walsh, who has participated in the past in negotiations with North Korean officials, presents a complex picture.

“Let’s say that all the parties are being sincere and on the first day of negotiations, North Korea agrees to get rid of its nuclear weapons, it would take another ten years for it to become a reality,” Walsh explains.

When it comes to USA o North Korea, words are not a good guide: actions, yes.”

Jim Walsh, expert in international security affairs.

In any case, a hypothetical negotiation to sign the denuclearization of North Korea also augurs difficult.

A big key to the discussion would be the North Korean demand that “the United States abandon its hostile policy” towards the country.

“And what does that mean? … Some North Koreans have told me in the past that this means that the United States will withdraw all its troops from the peninsula.”

Unlike past negotiations, the three new players at stake – Kim, Trump and Moon – could agree on that aspect, in the eyes of Welsh, who is currently an associate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The South Korean president comes from a party that seeks “greater autonomy and sovereignty,” he explains, so they may be inclined to disengage from the United States; and it is more than known that Trump is not an enthusiast of international alliances.

For now, Walsh is cautiously optimistic … but “scared to death”.

“They tell you that you are going to die, but there is an operation that can save you, very risky, if you submit to the operation, you can die before, but if you do not carry it out, you will die for sure …”.

In other words: “If diplomacy works, fantastic, but if negotiations collapse, all parties will get angry and take a more aggressive stance than they did before.”

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