In Korea, the Same Old Tricks from a Brand New Kim

    Anthony Ruggiero, David Adesnik

    Security, Asia

    Pyongyang’s sudden threat to cancel the June 12 summit in Singapore shows that Kim Jong-un has learned how to play the same games as his father and grandfather.

    North Korea long ago mastered the art of playing hard to get with American diplomats eager—or even desperate—to make a deal. Pyongyang’s sudden threat to cancel the June 12 summit in Singapore shows that Kim Jong-un has learned how to play the same games as his father and grandfather. The question now is whether the White House will call off the charade or whether it will allow hope to triumph over experience as Pyongyang slowly entangles the United States in a process that undermines Donald Trump’s maximum pressure policy.

    While its tactics are familiar, North Korea’s motives are not entirely apparent. One possibility is that the purpose of its threats is to extract concessions before the real negotiations even begin. In effect, Pyongyang wants the United States to pay for the privilege of talking, a mistake often made in the past by Seoul and Washington. A second possibility is that Kim Jong-un finally realized that the United States is dead serious when it says that it will settle for nothing short of “permanent, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” before the benefits begin to flow. If so, Pyongyang may really want to torpedo the June 12 summit.

    The initial North Korean complaint suggested that the country was looking to extract concessions before the summit. The first official statement from the North attacked the United States for “provocative military disturbances with South Korea,” a reference to the annual Max Thunder military exercises that began last week, involving two thousand South Korean and U.S. Air Force troops. If its objection were serious, then Pyongyang could have made it months ago, rather than fueling expectations that a major deal was imminent. Rather, this is a textbook example of how North Korea raises America’s hopes, then invents a pretext to back away from its commitments. The proper response to such a gambit is to call the North Korean bluff and offer nothing but additional sanctions.

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