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North Korean diplomacy after the Hanoi impasse

16 5 1

NIIGATA - When Kim Jong Un boarded his train in Hanoi to return to North Korea, he was probably asking himself the same question the world was: What comes next?

Whatever the North Korean leader may have been thinking on his long train ride back to Pyongyang, the actions his regime has taken since do not signal an immediate push to get back to the negotiating table. Instead, we have seen the following from North Korea: construction activity at the Sohae satellite launch facility, increased diplomatic activity with Russia and skipping inter-Korean meetings.

Taken in aggregate, this posturing signals North Korea’s strategy following “no agreement” in Hanoi. It portends increased urgency among U.S. and South Korean decision-makers and highlights the existence of an alternative for Kim that could undermine what remains of the international community’s maximum pressure campaign.

There are three reasons to believe that Kim prefers to be at the negotiating table. First is his break in precedent for type and location of engagement. Looking at the major North Korean negotiations related to security issues since Kim first took power, they have been in Beijing, Panmunjom or Pyongyang (Panmunjom being the only truly neutral ground out of the three). Kim has yet to travel to non-neutral ground, but the fact that he was willing to fly all the way to Singapore and to endure 60 hours by train to Hanoi at the risk of no agreement shows that he is willing to push the boundaries of diplomacy further than his predecessors.

Second is the sequencing of his summits. Kim showed deference to his neighbor and patron by traveling to China multiple times, but........

© The Japan Times