July 2018 ended with reports that North Korea was still manufacturing intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. August 2018 now is poised to end with the U.S.-North Korea diplomatic process in disarray, as U.S. President Donald J. Trump, on Friday, decided to announce that contrary to weeks of expectations, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will not be heading to Pyongyang for another round of talks this week.
“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump tweeted on the 24th. “In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!”
September 2018, meanwhile, is poised to be a momentous month for Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un will celebrate the 70th anniversary of his country’s founding—likely with Chinese President Xi Jinping by his side—and host South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a fifth inter-Korean summit. Even as North Korea’s diplomatic process with the United States might be at a roadblock, Pyongyang will push ahead with China and South Korea.
The fate of the process between the United States and North Korea isn’t surprising. Yes, last week’s appointment of a special representative for North Korea policy—Ford’s Steve Biegun—was long overdue, but that alone won’t smooth over the fundamental divergences between Pyongyang and Washington over denuclearization, sequencing, and the road from the June 12 Trump-Kim encounter in Singapore.