Trump will not be prepared to accept Kim's demand to "withdraw U.S. hostile policy," the scope of which is so vast and vague that it amounts to anything that the North wants to gain from negotiations.
To discuss Pyongyang's demand, an acceptable definition of "U.S. hostile policy" is required. The North has had a long list of grievances that allegedly stem from this policy, ranging from sanctions, U.S. military exercises to U.S. policy on human rights and religious freedom, and calling the North a rogue state.
For any bilateral meeting to take place, both sides must agree to meet in the first place. Kim Yo-jong, the second most powerful person in Pyongyang, articulated her "personal opinion" in a lengthy statement of 3,500 words, July 10, regarding the reasons why the North did not want to hold another summit.
She declared, "We have nothing to gain from a negotiation with the U.S. Serious contradiction and unsolvable discord exist between the DPRK and the U.S.… Under such circumstances, I am of the view that the DPRK-U.S. summit talks are not needed this year and beyond … unless the U.S. shows a decisive change in its stand…. There is no need for us to sit across from the U.S. right now."
She listed three reasons against a summit: 1) such talks "will only be needed for the U.S. and they will be unprofitable to us," 2) the North "will only end up losing time again," and 3) "it was foretold by Bolton who is a human scum."
Kim also suggested that future talks should be about the "withdrawal of hostility versus resumption of DPRK-U.S. negotiations" instead of "denuclearization measures versus lifting of sanctions." She added, "We are fully capable of living under any sanctions."
Her statement, for the most part, was about hard conditions that the U.S. side should meet, but it also offered a gesture of flexibility and a friendly attitude to the U.S. An interesting note in the statement: The North wants to continue on its path to deterrence and self-reliance. She underlined, "But, it does not necessarily mean the denuclearization is not possible … we mean it is not possible at this time."
The idea of another summit was first touted by President Moon in a video conference with European leaders June 30. Moon is seeking hard a way to restore a peace process on the peninsula. But, Pyongyang did not welcome it.
First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said July 3, "We do not feel any need to sit face-to-face with the U.S., as it does not consider the DPRK-U.S. dialogue as nothing more than a tool for grappling its political crisis."
On July 7, the foreign ministry's director general of U.S. affairs told the South "not to meddle in someone else's business", rejecting Moon's role as "a mediator" for another U.S.-DPRK summit. He added, "Once again, we have no intention to sit face to face with U.S."
Prior to his visit to Seoul last week, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said he did not think an in-person summit with Kim Jong-un was likely before the November elections due to the pandemic. About the same time, former White House national security adviser John Bolton said that a summit could happen as an "October surprise".
Bolton was basing his view on Trump's predisposition to do anything, if he thinks it will help his reelection. Maybe, Bolton knows Trump better than Biegun. Ironically, Seoul appears to hope that Bolton will turn out right on the bet.
On July 8, Trump said that another summit with Kim was possible. "I understand they want to meet and we would certainly do that," the president said on Gray TV. Had he been briefed accurately on North Korea's intent?
While raising her objections, Kim Yo-jong did not entirely rule out a potential summit, saying, "That's because a surprise thing may still happen, depending upon the judgment and decision between the two top leaders," whose personal relations are still "undoubtedly good and solid."
On the other hand, the North contends against making decisions on the leaders' good relations alone. They are also preparing for dealing with another U.S. administration and beyond. The North Korean leadership is not irrational, and there is hope for a peaceful resolution.
Tong Kim (email@example.com) is a visiting professor with the University of North Korean Studies, a visiting scholar with Korea University, a fellow at the Institute of Corean-American Studies, and a columnist for The Korea Times.