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US moves to seal nuclear deal with North Korea before year-end deadline

On June 12, 2018, in Singapore, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands after signing an agreement at the Capella Hotel. (Ministry of Communications Singapore/Zuma Press/TNS)

“I am the only one who can get you where you have to be,” US President Donald Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un via a tweet Sunday. “You should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!”

Trump and Kim have met three times since June last year to discuss ways to disarm North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, but they have not made substantial progress. Working-level talks in Sweden last month broke down.

On Sunday, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that they would put off their combined military air exercise in an effort to bolster dialogue. The Vigilant Ace drills were scheduled for later this month.

Esper urged Pyongyang to “return to the negotiating table without precondition or hesitation,” during a joint press conference in Bangkok on the sidelines of a regional defense ministers’ meeting led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Experts here said that the postponement of the exercise will boost momentum for dialogue, as it may be viewed as the easing of hostile policies against Pyongyang.

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“The move would have fulfilled North Korea’s demand for the US to take actions first,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

As the North Korean ruler has set a year-end deadline for the US to come up with flexible approaches, both sides will have to confirm in working-level talks whether they have sufficiently changed course and are able to sign an agreement before another summit is held, he said.

Pyongyang is willing to give up nuclear weapons in a phased manner, with reciprocal measures like sanctions relief and security guarantees in each step. Washington wants the regime to take concrete steps for complete and verifiable denuclearization first.

“The problem is neither of them have so far showed indications of approach alteration. They still seem to run parallel to one another with no picture of the final state of denuclearization from North Korea and Washington’s unwillingness for sanctions relief,” said Kim Jin-a, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

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© 2019 the Asia News Network