The main holdup in negotiations has been the Trump administration’s unwillingness to ease sanctions on North Korea, even if only partially and in a reversible manner, until North Korea commits to complete denuclearization, so “if Trump makes a decision to loosen some sanctions I think we could see this roll into a deal pretty quickly,” Victor Cha, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and onetime candidate to be Trump’s ambassador to South Korea, told me.
Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat and one of the highest-ranking officials ever to defect from the country, told me Kim has been indicating to the president “that he will continue the friendship, but in the meanwhile he has the means to destroy President Trump’s dream to be reelected by resuming” nuclear and missile tests.
But there is another (not necessarily mutually exclusive) theory of what’s behind the Kim government’s behavior in recent months: It already tried to strike while the iron was hot, only to discover that the iron wasn’t as hot as it anticipated. During the second Trump-Kim summit, in Vietnam, Kim proposed that the Trump administration lift most sanctions in exchange for the dismantlement of North Korea’s main nuclear facility. The Americans refused to settle for partial denuclearization, and so the North Koreans may no longer have much interest in concluding an agreement with Trump—at least until they have more certainty about who will be the next president.