Jean H. Lee, Director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson Center:
It’s no surprise that North Korea is playing hardball now. Giving up its prized nuclear program is not something North Korea will do without getting everything it can—security assurances, diplomatic and financial concessions—in return. That price will be high, perhaps forcing the United States and South Korea to settle for something less than “complete denuclearization” in exchange for peace.
The North Koreans are tough negotiators, and entirely transactional. They will demand concessions every step of the way. They will remind the Americans of gestures offered so far—the release of the three American detainees, the blowing up of tunnels at a northern nuclear site, and the reported offer to destroy a missile launch pad—and demand action from Washington in return.
Though the Singapore summit was a huge moment for Kim, in building his stature abroad as well as cementing his legitimacy at home, he did not get everything he wanted at that meeting. The North Koreans are conveying their displeasure by giving Secretary of State Pompeo the cold shoulder. They will use this stalling technique to pressure the Americans to concede. We’ll also see both sides invoking the promises their two leaders made at the Singapore summit to try to pressure the negotiating teams to escalate the issue to the top level again.
This is the start of a very long series of negotiations between the United States and North Korea. The negotiations will have their ups and downs. Secretary of State Pompeo and his team of negotiators will need to be patient, smart and inventive in dealing with their North Korean counterparts, and assume that the North Koreans are tough, savvy and skillful. There’s no need to panic quite yet—obstacles need to be handled calmly as a matter of diplomacy—but the Americans will need remain skeptical as well as skillful if they want to find a lasting path toward peace with the North Koreans.