Still, contrary to the opinions of many Korea watchers, we conclude that Pyongyang has made much more progress on the denuclearization front than Washington has made toward normalizing U.S.-North Korea relations, which it pledged to work toward at the Singapore summit. Not surprisingly, North Korea has viewed the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure and sanctions as incompatible with normalization. At the summit, Kim will surely insist on, and the United States should be prepared to discuss, some form of sanctions relief.
We are encouraged by U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun’s recent remarks that Washington needs “to advance our diplomacy alongside our plans for denuclearization in a manner that sends that message clearly to North Korea as well.” These remarks appear to signal a new flexibility in Washington to phase North Korea’s denuclearization in step with developing better relations and working toward a “peace regime” on the peninsula. We have previously argued that denuclearization must be phased step by step with normalization.
These developments are promising when coupled with Kim’s declaration on New Year’s Day to not only stop testing nuclear weapons but also to not produce or proliferate them.