Why Did North Korea Threaten to Cancel Peace Summits?

Coauthored by Steven Clyde and Michael McFadden

On April 27th, 2018, Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-in met in person at the DMZ line which separates North and South Korea. Michael Malice, author of an autobiography of Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, pointed out “there is all these talks about how he was the first North Korean leader to cross the DMZ since the end of the Korean War; I am 99% sure he is the first North Korean leader ever to cross the demarcation line.” Nonetheless, this was an event that took the world by surprise considering the six nuclear tests that took place over the last few years. Was this sudden urge to denuclearize too good to be true?

Yesterday, North Korea’s chief representative in the negotiations concerning the country’s disarmament released a startling statement that the DPRK is considering reneging on their agreement to a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

Coming on the heels of the announcement that the planned summit between the Koreas—along with all other talks of reconciliation—would be suspended indefinitely, following a joint military drill between the South and the US that North Korea’s Central News Agency said was provocative and indicates preparation to invade the North.

The Details of the Report:

The KCNA reported to North Korean citizens that “The South Korean authorities and the United States launched a large-scale joint air force drill against our Republic even before the ink on the historic inter-Korean declaration has dried. There is a limit to our good will.”

Vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan announced further that, “If the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the D.P.R.K.-U.S. summit.”

Not only that, the Kim regime also brought the United States’ previous foreign policy into the discussion by signaling their “feelings of repugnance towards” John Bolton, the US’ recently appointed National Security Advisor, and declaring that bilateral relations would cease between the two countries if the US proposed denuclearization for the North in the fashion of Libya or Iraq.

This is an unfortunate turn of events, and one that US officials can’t seem to make heads or tails of, with spokeswoman Heather Nauert representing a US State Department that is puzzled, because “Kim Jong-un had said previously that he understands the need and the utility of the United States and the Republic of Korea continuing in its joint exercises.”

For several weeks now, many have been shocked by how quickly the North Korean regime had grown amenable to negotiations toward disarmament; and news from Chinese geologists that an earthquake had likely destroyed its nuclear testing facility in Punggye-ri stirred the idea within some that Kim Jong-un saw no choice but to proceed with these negotiations.

A Closer Look At North Korea’s Nuclear Sites:

During North Korea’s last nuclear test, which was on September 3, 2017, there were reports that landslides were caused, and considering  6.3-magnitutde tremors were felt up to the border of China it is no surprise this caused immense damage to their nuclear reactor sites. Some Chinese scientists reported days before the April meeting with Kim and Moon took place that  “A large part of North Korea’s underground nuclear test facility, which leader Kim Jong Un pledged to close, is unusable anyway due to the collapse of a cavity inside the mountain after the last blast there.” Considering Kim Jong-un is undoubtably backed in a corner, left with few resources, could this latest threat to end all peace summits be a plot to request more funding, or get more out of the deal in general?

The Response from the U.S.:

That idea has been called into doubt now, as the North has seemingly ended any peace talks with the South and has reverted to its tense relations with the United States.

As the United States federal government wrings its hands in confusion, several prominent figures have spoken out with theories as to why the hopes of disarmament have been so quickly rattled.

Francis Rooney of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Fox News that the DPRK’s threat to cancel the summit is a publicity stunt and that Kim Jong-un has given no indication toward changing his stance at all and that the “we better be very skeptical” in the absence of hard evidence.

Other experts agree that this is unlikely to be the death knell of next month’s summit, with Joel Wit, who negotiated with North Korea for Clinton’s administration, saying, “It’s probably them acting like North Koreans after being pussy cats since January. Acting like tough guys. Like Trump saying he would walk out of the summit if he didn’t like the deal.”

Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute offered that it’s possible that “Kim Jong-un is looking for a way out of this thing” by way of a deal similar to the US’ deal with Iran, for which President Trump has consistently made his feelings clear.

Finally, Michael Malice describes this event as “[North Korea’s] attempt to—very effectively—humiliate us and also to embarrass us, because now you have the State Department going on TV and saying, ‘We don’t know what’s going on.’”

He continues to recount how “North Korea boasts in their literature that ‘when necessary, [they] will slap America across the face,’” and that “now Kim Jong-un can go forward to his people in propaganda and say, ‘Look, I stood up to the United States and South Korea at the same time, so don’t think I’m weak and giving up anything.’”

While the path to peace on the Korean peninsula still looks more hopeful than it has in decades, it is still quite unclear to where that path will lead. No action that the Kim regime takes can be taken at face-value, because their country has been built upon lies and deception. Much of the burden now lies on President Trump and his advisors to carefully navigate these negotiations in hopes of bringing the peninsula’s authoritarian nightmare closer to an end, and it also cannot be forgotten that, given Kim’s past antics, he is most likely going to push for more out of the deal when he himself knows his reign of terror is coming to an end.