- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2019

North Korea has made no serious progress on denuclearization, according to conservative experts, who say the Trump administration should more aggressively enforce sanctions against Pyongyang ahead of Wednesday’s one year anniversary of President Trump’s Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“While there was much hope that Singapore would deliver results, it has, thus far, failed to do so,” Heritage Foundation Asia scholar Olivia Enos said in comments circulated to reporters on Tuesday. “North Korea is no closer to denuclearizing than it was prior to Singapore, and human rights conditions in North Korea continue to deteriorate.”

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA Korea deputy division chief, added that “denuclearization negotiations with North Korea are at an impasse” and that “Kim Jong-un has been no more willing to abandon his country’s arsenal than his father and grandfather were.”

Mr. Klingner, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, went on in the comments circulated by the think tank, to argue that the Trump administration has fallen short with its “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea.

“The Trump Administration initially sanctioned more North Korean entities in its first 18 months in office than the Obama Administration did in eight years,” Mr. Klinger said. “But like his predecessors, Trump has not fully enforced U.S. laws, including those protecting the U.S. financial system. For all its tough talk, the Trump Administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy was never maximum.”

The administration rallied the U.N. Security Council to level its broadest ever slate of economic sanctions to date against North Korea in 2017. Washington also has its own unilateral sanctions in place against certain North Korean economic sectors.

U.S. officials last month announced the seizure of a North Korean ship accused of smuggling coal and heavy machinery in defiance of sanctions. While officials noted in court documents that the ship was actually seized back in April 2018 by Indonesian authorities, the move was seen by many as a signal from the Trump administration that it could more aggressively enforce sanctions going forward.

The revelation of the ship seizure came after North Korea had carried out a wave of short-range missile tests — tests Pyongyang had previously refrained from while diplomacy with Washington was underway over the past year.

The diplomacy has stalled — publicly at least — since February, when a second summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim was abruptly cut short after the two sides failed to strike a far-reaching deal to end the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Mr. Trump said at the time that he had to walk away because the North Koreans demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of their nuclear arsenal, a characterization Pyongyang later challenged.

Since Hanoi, Mr. Kim has cast a negative shadow on future talks with heated rhetoric. In a mid-April speech, the North Korean leader set a Dec. 31 deadline for the Trump administration to make a “bold decision” to change its negotiating stance if it wants a deal.

“We don’t like — and we are not interested in — the United States’ way of dialogue … in which it tries to unilaterally push through its demands,” Mr. Kim said in the speech. “We don’t welcome — and we have no intention of repeating — the kind of summit meeting like the one held in Hanoi.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brushed aside the North Korean demands in a recent interview with The Washington Times, saying the Trump administration remains open to talks with Pyongyang.

“I hope we get another opportunity to sit down with them and have a serious conversation,” Mr. Pompeo said in the interview last week.

But the secretary of state also stressed that Mr. Kim agreed to give up his nuclear arsenal at the Singapore summit a year ago.

“They need to do what Chairman Kim said that they would do,” Mr. Pompeo said. “That’s been our posture since the beginning. We’re happy to talk about the best way to achieve that. We’re happy to talk about what the right tools and mechanisms are so we can facilitate that.”

A joint declaration the North Korean leader and Mr. Trump signed at the summit said: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to [North Korea] and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

National security analysts question whether the two sides see eye-to-eye on what “complete denuclearization” would entail. Some argue the North Koreans are demanding the removal of the U.S. defensive nuclear umbrella from all of East Asia.

The Trump administration has declined to comment on when the last direct contact occurred between U.S. and North Korean officials.

David Maxwell, a retired Army Special Forces colonel and a North Korea expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said “the U.S. has been clear that it is ready to talk.”

“Kim is the one who has not allowed substantive working level talks since the Singapore summit,” Mr. Maxwell said in comments circulated to reporters recently.

He added there should be no third summit with North Korea “unless working level negotiations produce some kind of substantive agreement.”

“[But], we should not expect any substantive positive action from the North because Kim is still trying to recover from his failure at Hanoi,” Mr. Maxwell said, arguing that the best way forward for the Trump administration now is to “sustain maximum pressure” against Pyongyang.

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