President Donald Trump’s administration has decided that it is ready to talk to North Korea, apparently without preconditions.
“The maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify,” Vice President Mike Pence revealed to The Washington Post on his return from South Korea, adding, “No pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that … represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”
Before he arrived in South Korea, Pence stressed that the diplomatic and economic isolation of North Korea must continue after the Olympics, a view inconsistent with that of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who hopes to see the Olympics lead to more dialogue and improved inter-Korean relations.
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed talks without preconditions a few months ago, the White House immediately responded that the U.S. is not ready for such negotiations. That no longer appears to be the case, as the U.S. seems to be finally embracing the strategy of maximum pressure and engagement first mentioned early in 2017.
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Pence and Moon reportedly worked out their differences in bilateral meetings during his visit. Moon emphasized the need for engagement but assured the vice president that North Korea will not be given any relief from the maximum pressure campaign until it begins pursuing denuclearization.
It is unclear exactly what steps North Korea must take to relieve the pressure. “I don’t know. That’s why you have to have talks,” Pence said when asked what Pyongyang needs to do.
Moon told Pence, who was in contact with Trump throughout his trip, that he informed the North Korean officials of the desperate need to engage the U.S. in dialogue.
The U.S. may be open to talks with the North, however, Pyongyang’s willingness to engage Washington in talks is less clear, especially given the demand for denuclearization, which runs contrary to North Korea’s assertion that it should be recognized as a nuclear state. The new sanctions Pence announced in Japan may also complicate the situation.
In South Korea, Pence and the North Korean delegation avoided one another like the plague. There were no handshakes, no friendly smiles, no interaction whatsoever.
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