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North Korea’s May 16,2018 Statements and Their Implications for a Trump-Kim Summit

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North Korean authorities issued two separate statements on May 16,2018, that have been reported to cast doubt on prospects for the Trump-Kim summit…
North Korean authorities issued two separate statements on May 16,2018, that have been reported to cast doubt on prospects for the Trump-Kim summit scheduled to occur in Singapore on June 12. The statements accuse South Korea of disregarding the newly-minted Panmunjom declaration by allowing U. S.-South Korea joint air drills including nuclear-capable aircraft to go forward on the peninsula and challenge the characterizations and objectives of U. S. senior officials regarding prospective U. S.-North Korea nuclear talks in advance of the Trump-Kim summit. The statements declare the terms upon which North Korea perceives that it is entering into the summit and threaten to walk away from summit talks if the United States pushes for North Korea’s unilateral denuclearization without meeting Pyongyang’s conditions for pursuing “complete denuclearization.”
The timing of the first Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) statement occurred on the eve of the first ministerial-level talks scheduled to occur following the April 27 inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom. North Korea had proposed the ministerial talks a day prior and canceled at the last minute the night before the two sides were to meet. The timing of the announcement appeared designed to maximize impact on South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration by underscoring that his achievements were premised on North Korean cooperation and that North Korea intended to utilize the ambiguously worded Panmunjom declaration to suit its purposes and pursue its objectives.
The timing of the statement and the temporary interruption of inter-Korean contacts was probably designed to induce caution by the Moon administration and to press South Korea to utilize the Panmunjom declaration as an instrument for inducing restraint and curbing the scope of U. S.-South Korea joint exercises. It was probably also to influence Moon to show solidarity with the spirit of the declaration only days prior to his arrival in Washington for a preparatory May 22 summit designed to enhance U. S.-South Korea coordination and facilitate Trump’s preparation for his own highly anticipated June meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. The statement criticizing the air drills was almost exclusively targeted at South Korean authorities’ will to adhere to the Panmunjom declaration. But it did include a vague reference linking the fate of the Trump-Kim summit to North Korea’s desire that the United States and South Korea show greater self-restraint in their conduct of joint military exercises.

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