Experts: U.S. Shifts Focus Away From North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump is shifting his priorities away from North Korea in his run up to the presidential election this year, experts said, after fruitless efforts at denuclearization talks that remain deadlocked.“I suspect the administration sees little opportunity for renewed nuclear diplomacy before the 2020 election,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.Trump has been reassigning U.S. officials involved in negotiations with North Korea to other posts, a move that experts think signals that his administration is putting less emphasis on denuclearization talks that failed to make a breakthrough last year.The White House announced Tuesday that Trump has nominated FILE – U.S. special representative to North Korea Steve Biegun speaks after being named by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, Aug. 23, 2018.In December, FILE U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un sign documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore, June 12, 2018.Trump met with Kim for the first time at the Singapore summit in June 2018. Their second summit was in February 2019 in Hanoi. It ended quickly because Washington’s call for full denuclearization and Pyongyang’s demand for sanctions relief did not mesh.An attempt to bridge that difference at working-level talks in Stockholm in October broke down, and the talks remain stalled since then.Manning said Trump is turning away from North Korea because the lack of progress made on denuclearization does little to benefit him during an election year.“Trump has made North Korea a signature issue of his foreign policy, so the failure to achieve any serious steps toward denuclearization, while North Korea continues to improve its missile and nuclear capabilities is a stain on his record on a key issue in which he is heavily invested,” Manning said.According to a confidential U.N. report to be released next month and seen by Reuters, North Korea has been FILE – National security adviser Robert O’Brien listens as President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops in Washington, Jan. 8, 2020.Speaking at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank in Washington, on Tuesday, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the president would meet with Kim if there is a prospect of making a deal.“If there is an opportunity to move the ball forward for the American people, he’s always willing to do that,” O’Brien said. “We will have to see as to whether another summit between the leaders is appropriate.”Douglas Paal, vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that attempting a summit with Kim could be risky for Trump, who is running for re-election. But O’Brien’s remarks suggest that the Trump administration is leaving a door open for diplomacy.“Doing deals with dictators in election years tends to benefit the opposition,” Paal said. “Trump sees no need for a summit now, but his national security adviser is covering for the possible downside.”Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said neither Trump nor Kim has much to gain if there is no progress made through another summit.“It stands to reason that Trump would seek political benefit from another meeting [with] Kim, but would not be interested in another meeting if it will not benefit him politically or advance the U.S. national security interest,” Snyder said.“It is in the interest of both Trump and Kim Jong Un to ensure that any future meetings are accompanied by meaningful achievements,” he added.Experts think there is little chance that another summit will take place between Washington and Pyongyang this year in the current stalemate.“There is little reason to think that the two leaders will meet this year or that any new agreements will be reached,” Pollack said. “The sides simply aren’t talking to each other.”Manning thinks “for now, denuclearization diplomacy is dead.”FILE – A man watches a TV screen showing a file image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2020.However, North Korea could become a priority if it changes its position or tests more missiles, according to experts.“It’s pretty [clear] North Korea is not a priority in an election year, unless North Korea decides to make it a priority through its actions,” Paal said.Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, thinks North Korea could either escalate threats by testing its weapons again in an attempt to gain the U.S. attention or stay conservative, hoping that Trump will win the election.“That comes down to North Korean calculus,” Gause said. “What does Kim think? Does Kim think that it’s better to be conservative, not cause a lot of problems and hopes that Trump wins? Or does he think, ‘Hey I need to force this issue before the election?’ And, we’ll find out in the next few months.” Lee Joen and Ahn So-young contributed to this report, which originated on VOA Korean.



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