Kim Jong Un appears to be a man who wants to have his cake and eat it too. In a televised New Years address, the North Korean leader restated his commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a desire for further in-person talks with President Trump. He followed this up with a warning that his country will explore a ‘new path’ if US economic sanctions and other pressures in place against his government continue. He spoke of consequences if the United States “continues to break its promises and misjudges the patience of our people.”
Essentially, Kim wants all economic penalties lifted, and to be allowed to denuclearize at a pace amenable to him, not Washington.
Given the current state of affairs between the US and North Korea that simply is not going to happen. The summit held in Singapore between Trump and Kim last June ended without a timeline for denuclearization having been agreed upon. Negotiations on the matter were to take place between US and North Korean officials in the months following the summit. Unfortunately, these negotiations were hampered by North Korea’s insistence that denuclearization not begin until the economic sanctions were lifted. A significant meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials in November was abruptly cancelled at the last moment and not rescheduled. Following that, some in the Trump administration have begun to wonder just how sincere Pyongyang’s desire to part with its nuclear weapons really is.
In his speech, Kim spoke about the patience of the North Korean people being tested. However, in this delicate process, the patience of the US government counts for more. The words and actions of Kim Jong Un and his government since Singapore strongly suggest there will be no compromise in the future on North Korea’s nuclear weapons regardless of the fate of economic sanctions. President Trump extended to Kim a grace period for him to start mapping out a path towards the eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. With no progress being made, or results in sight, that grace period could be coming to an end soon.