The United States recently introduced new sanctions on three North Korean officials, including one person very close to their dictator, Jim Jong-un. This obviously has the North Koreans upset with us and they’ve released a statement saying that Trump’s “maximum pressure” doctrine is endangering the chances for another summit. Incredibly, they even hinted that these actions could risk ending denuclearization efforts. (ABC News)
Pyongyang criticized Washington in a lengthy by Korean Central News Agency, but the state-run media arm didn’t directly criticize President Donald Trump. The commentary mostly took issue with stalled nuclear negotiations.
The commentary “made sure to control the level of criticism so as to not agitate the U.S.,” hinting North Korea still would consider a second summit between Kim and Trump, according to Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Security and Unification at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“They want direct talks at the top level,” Shin added. “They don’t want to involve high-level officials.”
This certainly is a different level of response from North Korea than we’ve been used to seeing. As recently as eighteen months ago, when Kim was upset over something there would be a new round of nuclear tests or missile launches, accompanied by claims that they would destroy the United States in a massive ball of fire. Now they’re putting out press releases hinting at “disappointment” and avoiding mentioning President Trump by name.
One South Korean analyst from Seoul described this subdued response as an indication that Kim Jong-un, “is extremely afraid to pursue hardline provocations.” He went on to conclude that, “the current U.S. strategy seems to be working on containing North Korea.”
Perhaps, but this is still a provocative stance for Kim Jong-un to take. Keep in mind that his country was recently proven to be dodging oil sanctions with the cooperation of China. He’s also been shown to be expanding, rather than abandoning his nuclear and missile testing sites. Blaming us for any stall in the disarmament talks is ludicrous.
And yet, Kim clearly seems to want to keep the talks going and not tick off Donald Trump. So what incentive does Kim Jong-un have to stay at the table? Well, the American President still holds the keys to the one thing that Kim probably wants more than anything else at this stage: respect. By being seen on the world stage with the President of the United States, engaging in negotiations and freely traveling around the world as if he were a respectable, “normal” world leader, Kim gains admittance to the most exclusive club on the planet.
Also, just the opportunity to travel freely must be a big motivating factor. Kim is surely tired of being holed up in his hermit kingdom after all these years, never getting the opportunity to go anywhere other than the occasional trip to China and fearing arrest or assassination every time he leaves his own nation. Keep in mind that Kim is widely believed to have attended school in Switzerland as a young man and he’s fascinated with western culture. (Look no further than his friendship with Dennis Rodman and his obsession with video games.) There’s no doubt Kim would love to be invited to all of those glitzy summits of world leaders and travel the globe more freely.
But is that enough to bring him into compliance? He still has a lot to lose if his party and the rest of the family lose faith in him. (And what he “loses” could be from the neck up.) Kim Jong-un is not to be trusted and still needs to be held accountable for his endless human rights violations. But for now, he has a strong hand to play and he’ll likely still get that next meeting with Trump.