Checkpoint Asia

US Lowers Demands for North Korea First-Phase Nuclear Deal

Trump admin again balks again at putting any sanctions relief on the table, but at least also lowers its own demands as well

In Hanoi North Korea wanted partial sanctions relief for partial denuclearization. It would give up its Yongbyon nuclear site but not its existing missiles. In return the US would end some, but not all sanctions.

Reportedly Trump had agreed to as much before the summit but changed his mind in Hanoi believeing that with a hostile media he couldn’t sell it at home.

Instead he demanded the North Koreans give up Yongbyon and much more, and do it all upfront, before the US withdrew any sanctions. Obviously that wasn’t going to fly.

Now Trump’s negotiator has communicated that Trump can still not deliver sanctions relief, but on the other hand neither would the US be demanding either full or partial denuclearization.

Instead all it is asking for is the current North Korean nuclear freeze where Pyongyang is not adding to its arsenal (ie to its negotiating leverage) or conducting more nuclear and missile tests to continue. In return the US would offer some humanitarian and diplomatic concessions.

That would be a very limited and symbolic deal, but it would be a step in the right direction and a possible trust-building measure. Question is, is that enough for the economically besieged North Korea and could Trump deliver even on such limited promises.

Antiwar.com:

On Monday, John Bolton angrily denied reports that the US was contemplating a nuclear freeze deal with North Korea, condemning the New York Times for making the report, and calling for “consequences” for the paper for even suggesting it.

The report was apparently true, however, with Trump’s top North Korea negotiator, Steve Biegun, telling reporters about the idea in an off-the-record briefing which only became public later, after Bolton accused the media of making the idea up.

Biegun said the point of a nuclear freeze was not to abandon the goal of complete denuclearization, but rather to reach an interim deal with some US concession in return for a guarantee that North Korea is not making anything new.

Biegun said it was clear the US wouldn’t lift sanctions just for a freeze, and it wouldn’t be about recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power. He did, however, say the US might offer humanitarian aid, or improved diplomatic ties in the interim. 

This is potentially a major turning point, as previously the US had opposed offering anything to North Korea until years later, after denuclearization was completely finalized. North Korea has wanted some improvement in the meantime, and has seen the US refusing to offer anything as a sign they are not sincere in their offers.