Insight: Questioning Trump's Denuclearization Commitment
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un Signed the Peace Agreement in Korean Peninsula - Photo by AP

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – United States (US) is considering setting up a diplomatic office in North Korea, a symbolic move that could show how relations between Washington and Pyongyang have seriously begun to thaw while the two sides negotiate to curtail Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile forces, according to a Trump administration official, on Monday (02/18).

The Trump administration wants a senior diplomat in North Korea to set up a liaison office, which would serve as America’s quasi-embassy but with very stripped-down functions. The hope is that Pyongyang, in return, would send its own envoys to the US. If that happens, it would be the first major step toward reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two nations.

The proposal comes as President Trump prepares to meet later this month in Hanoi, Vietnam, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The plan would allow North Korea to also open an office in the US, the official said, but it wasn’t immediately clear how strongly North Korea supported the idea.

Trump has repeatedly boasted of the warm relationship he has established with Kim. But there has been little progress since the two leaders met in Singapore in June and pledged to improve ties and work toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

While North Korea has suspended nuclear tests and missiles launches since 2017, the two sides still appear to be far apart on the pace of denuclearization and what concessions the Trump administration might give in return. The priority for North Korea is persuading the US to ease economic sanctions, which have damaged the North Korean economy.

Some former officials said that the opening of liaison office might be a way to improve ties without reducing the economic pressure the Trump administration wants to maintain on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear and missile arsenals.

“Partly, it is a symbolic gesture to demonstrate our relations have improved. As a practical matter, it is a good idea because if we sent in inspectors they would need a base of operations,” said Gary Samore, senior National Security Agency official on weapons of mass destruction, as report by CNN on Monday.

Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy for North Korea, said in a speech last month that the formal lifting of sanctions wouldn’t come until North Korea rids itself of nuclear weapons. At the same time, Biegun indicated the US could take steps as North Korea begins to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenals, though he didn’t spell out what they might be.

The Trump administration official said that the liaison office idea, which appears to be just one element of a package of negotiating proposals, might be discussed further when Mr. Biegun meets in Hanoi with his North Korean counterpart prior to the summit.

The idea of a liaison office isn’t a new one. When the Clinton administration worked out an accord in 1994 that required North Korea to freeze, and ultimately dismantle, its plutonium production capability, the two sides also discussed setting up liaison offices.

The plan for the office, however, fell apart when North Korea’s security services said they wouldn’t allow the US to use a diplomatic pouch to bring in materials and documents without inspection.

The State Department and North Korea didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. CNN has reported that both sides are discussing the idea of setting up the office.

Robert Einhorn, a former senior State Department official who negotiated with North Korea over its missile programs, said a liaison offices “would be valuable for both sides, but I am not sure whether the North Koreans are more receptive to the idea than they were in the past.”

“The kind of reciprocal steps that the North wants most – economic sanctions relief – is the kind the administration is least willing to give,” Einhorn said.

In a Jan. 1 speech, Kim pointed to the sort of concessions he is looking for. He mentioned he would unconditionally welcome the reopening of an inter-Korean factory complex that had employed North Korean laborers until its closure in 2016 following repeated North Korean provocations.

Kim also said he would embrace the reopening of a tourist resort located just north of the inter-Korean border which used to attract South Korean tourists until 2008, when a North Korean soldier shot a South Korean woman, which led to its de facto closure.

The reopening of both sites would require exemptions from international sanctions that bar the inflow of hard cash into North Korea, as the factory complex and tourist attraction had both earned the Pyongyang regime cash.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexy@theinsiderstories.com

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