Kim Sung-han, Professor, Korea University; former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for South Korea (2012-2013):
There was both good news and bad coming out of Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang. First, the bad: Pompeo was unable to win North Korean acceptance of Final, Fully Verified Denuclearization (FFVD). Next, the good: He refused to accept North Korea’s demands for an official End of the War Declaration before North Korea shows significant progress in denuclearization.
Overall, North Korea is likely to drag its feet by relying on salami slicing tactics—separating the bilateral agenda into smaller pieces and maximizing its benefits for each concession—unless the United States can draw genuine support from South Korea and China. North Korea could try to dismantle ICBMs if it sees President Trump getting impatient as he approaches the mid-term elections, thereby driving a wedge between the United States on the one hand and South Korea and Japan, on the other, who are more concerned about short-to-mid-range missiles than they are about ICBMs.
In this vein, the United States and South Korea, in particular, need to try utmost efforts to agree on a detailed roadmap for FFVD and persuade China to get on board so that Beijing will delink the North Korean nuclear issue from the structure of U.S.-China strategic competition. The core of the roadmap is the strategic framework to exchange FFVD with the peace regime of the Korean Peninsula, not just a peace treaty (or End of War Declaration) alone. The peace regime should be defined as a comprehensive concept which includes denuclearization, U.S.-North Korea and Japan-North Korea diplomatic normalization, economic normalization, arms reduction, and a peace treaty.
In light of North Korea’s long-time position, North Korea will likely try to focus on the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the U.S.-North Korea peace treaty in exchange for denuclearization. In this sense, a premature declaration of the end of the war should be avoided since it could provoke unnecessary controversies over its political and legal impacts on the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) and the ROK-U.S. alliance let alone the United Nations Command.
If North Korea agrees, the four parties, which include the two Koreas, the United States, and China, should start talking about the establishment of the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. If the End of the War Declaration is agreed to be inevitable, however, it needs to be done only when North Korea agrees to a specific timeline and roadmap for complete denuclearization.