It’s far too early to say the chances of a nuclear agreement are decreasing.
After meeting with his North Korean counterparts in Pyongyang on July 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo characterized the talks as “productive,” emphasizing that “progress” was made. But in stark contrast to that, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing the Trump administration for its “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.” The situation has led many to doubt American and North Korean resolve and sincerity towards denuclearization.
Quite the contrary, the current state of affairs points to Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un’s unique cooperation in tackling the multiple external and internal factors at hand.
Achieving the end state of denuclearization requires a firm commitment by both leaders. But at the same time, Trump and Kim face huge audience costs at home. Even for an authoritarian ruler like Kim, reverting to a hardline policy of achieving nuclear status can risk tarnishing his infallibility and national image as a strongman to the people, or incur discontent and even conflict among his relatively small winning coalitions in the Workers’ Party of Korea and Korean People’s Army.
In this context, it is not surprising that Trump described Kim as someone who “loves his people” and “loves his country very much” after the historic summit in Singapore on June 12.
Trump also faces credible domestic audience costs. For one thing, Trump needs to achieve at least some progress to prove that his foreign policy is working, and that it is in America’s best interests that he prevail after the mid-term elections.