North Korea-U.S. relations seem frozen while the two Koreas grow closer

We learned over the weekend that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is still on track to visit Pyongyang in the near future, hoping to set up a second summit between President Trump and his new love interest, Kim Jong-un. But even as the two sides continue to talk – a far better situation than firing missiles – it remains unclear if North Korea is willing to meet the most fundamental demands needed to move forward. The Trump administration is clearly ready to deal if it means peace on the Korean Peninsula, but Rocket Man has to start tearing down his weapons facilities and allowing western observers to verify his progress. And as of now, Kim is saying he still wants us to go first.

North Korea needs more trust in the U.S. and their developing relationship before it will get rid of its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang’s top diplomat said Saturday as an envoy from another of the international community’s biggest worries — Syria — demanded that the U.S., France and Turkey withdraw their troops from his civil-war-wracked country.

More than three months after a June summit in Singapore between the U.S. and North Korean leaders, Ri Yong Ho told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly that the North doesn’t see a “corresponding response” from the U.S. to North Korea’s early disarmament moves. Instead, he noted, the U.S. is continuing sanctions aimed at keeping up pressure.

“The perception that sanctions can bring us on our knees is a pipe dream of the people who are ignorant of us,” he said, adding that the continued sanctions are “deepening our mistrust” and deadlocking the current diplomacy.

North Korea wants at least some measure of relief from sanctions before they will begin dismantling their nuclear weapons stockpiles and facilities. Now, where have we heard that before? Oh, that’s right. We’ve heard it every time a United States president or any coalition of western powers have attempted to reason with Kim’s family and come to some sort of denuclearization arrangement. And every time the sanctions are loosened, North Korea fills their pockets and then turns around and finds some excuse to slam the door shut on further talks.

I remain all in favor of coming to some sort of deal with North Korea despite how much it galls us to whitewash Kim’s horrendous record of human rights abuses. But if he wants to be treated like a real leader of a 21st century nation he should demonstrate some self-awareness. Your past actions have consequences and Kim hasn’t earned any significant measure of trust after lying and betraying the west so many times in the past. North Korea needs to go first and make at least some significant progress toward denuclearization before any sanctions are lifted. Otherwise, we’re back to playing Charlie Brown while Kim is Lucy holding the football.

But just because we don’t seem to be making any progress, South Korea is moving towards normalization at an accelerating pace. Just this weekend it was announced that South Korea is beginning the process of removing their landmines from the DMZ and the North is believed to be starting on the same process. (Associated Press)

Seoul says South Korea has begun clearing mines from two sites inside the heavily fortified border with North Korea under a package of tension-reduction deal between the rivals.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry says North Korea is expected to do the same on Monday.

Ministry officials say South Korean troops entered the Demilitarized Zone on Monday morning to remove mines around the border village of Panmunjom and another frontline area where they plan their first joint searches with North Korea for soldiers during the 1950-53 Korean War.

This is a very promising sign for Moon Jae-in and his people, assuming that his new partner in the North carries through. South Korea is the country facing the most imminent threat from Kim Jong-un if he ever goes totally off the rails so they clearly have the most to gain. But removing landmines is a monumental task. First of all, how many landmines are we talking about? Most estimates put the number at somewhere in the range of three million. Both sides have been mining that strip of land for more than half a century. It’s frankly impossible that any comprehensive maps exist showing where they all are.

And taking them out safely is no easy feat even if you can locate them all. For now, the best the two sides might be able to do is clear a couple of paths between the two countries and mark the borders of those paths very clearly. Still, it’s a good step in the right direction toward normalizing relations between those two nations. Even if that’s all we manage to accomplish, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is still vastly improved over just one year ago.