Why U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Talks Are Stalled

The bellicose rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea has certainly cooled, with no more threats of nuclear annihilation or personal insults. But months after Donald Trump shared an historic handshake with Kim Jong Un in June, a nuclear deal remains elusive. The U.S. president cites the more than year-long break in North Korean missile tests as a diplomatic success and says he’s in “no hurry” to get more done, even as North Korea’s nuclear program quietly advances. North Korea has accused the U.S. of “gunboat diplomacy” by making demands without offering something in return. As the two leaders prepare for a second summit, the difficulty remains in putting meat on the bare-bones language in the declaration the two leaders signed at the first.

1. What did the agreement call for?

Four things: To normalize ties between the U.S. and North Korea, formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, repatriate U.S. war remains and — crucially — “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But “work toward” is undefined. It’s also unclear whether the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea is included. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo says that Kim accepted the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.” North Korea points out the agreement referred to the entire peninsula and insists U.S. weapons must go at the same time, or it would be left vulnerable to attack.

2. What does ‘denuclearization’ entail?

To start, the U.S. wants North Korea to provide an inventory of weapons, facilities and fissile material it has produced. Kim’s regime calls that akin to asking for a “target list.” Further steps would include inspections, closing facilities and destroying weapons, and even surrendering nuclear material, according to proliferation experts. Past talks have faltered on the question of inspections and verification.

3. What does North Korea want?

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Jon Herskovitz and Youkyung Lee