North Korea has been surprisingly willing to come to the negotiating table with the United States and South Korea. It's been a long time since such serious peace talks have taken place. However, the regime is now making threats to pull out of the talks because of join U.S.-South Korean military drills. Is that a sign of failure? It may mean the opposite.
American Presidential scholar Marc Thiessen writes in the Washington Post that Pyongyang's acting up shows that the Trump administration's strategy is working.
Over the past several months, Trump has boxed in Kim Jong Un. First, he ramped up economic pressure on Pyongyang while making clear that, unlike his predecessors, he was willing to take military action. Yet when Kim offered to meet face-to-face, Trump shocked everyone (probably including Kim) by reportedly accepting on the spot. Instead of rejecting the offer, or using it as a bargaining chip to elicit concessions, Trump said “yes” and put the two nations on a faster track to nuclear negotiations than anyone had anticipated.
When the talks began, North Korea indicated that they wanted an Obama-Iran style deal, but President Trump made clear that kind of arrangement is not happening. Several top-level administration officials, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, made clear that any arrangement made will have to actually involve denuclearization, not just the promise of it.
“If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize,” Pompeo said, “the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on par with our South Korean friends.”
Thiessen states that this puts Kim into a corner, an offer he almost cannot refuse.
That stunning offer is deeply destabilizing for Kim. If he goes to a summit with Trump and refuses to accept a deal that provides his country with prosperity on par with South Korea, then he can no longer blame the West for the misery of the North Korean people.
It's only understandable that North Korea is lashing out, because it puts the responsibility squarely on the Kim regime's shoulders. By threatening the "Sunshine Policy" with a little rain, Kim may be testing President Trump's resolve. Thiessen concludes his discussion by stating that he cannot give in to these demands to call off military exercises.
Trump needs to show Kim that he won’t respond to threats by refusing to call off the exercises. Through back channels, he needs to reaffirm his willingness to provide North Korea with security and prosperity in exchange for immediate denuclearization but also make clear that if North Korea refuses, the alternative is not the status quo. Sanctions will be ramped up, and military action is possible.
Most importantly, the White House can take Pyongyang's reactions as evidence that they are feeling the heat. If he keeps up the heat and doesn't back down, real negotiations may take place after all.