Time Is Running Out for Trump’s North Korean Diplomacy, Analysts Say

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SEOUL, South Korea — The clock is ticking.

Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, has said that the United States has until the end of the year to make a new proposal to create a breakthrough in stalled negotiations on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

The looming deadline — which North Korea has issued repeated warnings about — carries the implicit threat that the country could return to its alarming behavior of the past by ending its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests and launching long-range missiles capable of hitting American cities. On Thursday, it launched two short-range rockets, its 13th rocket or missile test since May.

“Today, we sit on top of a live volcano,” said Robert L. Carlin, a former nuclear negotiator at the State Department and longtime North Korea observer, describing a rapidly deteriorating situation on the peninsula during a lecture this month at Yonsei University in Seoul, the South Korean capital. “We don’t have a lot of time to back away.”

North Korea has not been explicit about what might happen after Dec. 31, except that Mr. Kim has warned of finding a “new way” if Washington persists with sanctions and tries to force an unpalatable denuclearization deal.

With its increasingly strident demands in recent weeks, North Korea is playing a delicate game in denying itself an escape hatch from Mr. Kim’s year-end deadline. And it comes as Washington is consumed by the impeachment hearings, which limits Mr. Trump’s room for diplomacy with the North.

That combination makes the situation volatile, escalating the risk that either side could miscalculate, officials and analysts worry.

A nuclear or ICBM test would also provoke China at a time when Mr. Kim needs its help more than ever to blunt the pain of international sanctions. Last year, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited North Korea, a 50 percent increase from 2017, providing badly needed cash for Pyongyang, according to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul, citing Chinese customs data.

If Mr. Kim ends his diplomacy with Mr. Trump, he could, at least in the short term, “muddle through with the help of China,” said Lee Jung-chul, a North Korea expert at Soongsil University in Seoul. “It will be difficult for the North to attempt a provocation, given the importance of its relations with China.”

North Korea has not specified what it seeks in demanding that Washington drop its “hostile policy.” It has long indicated that it wants international sanctions lifted and an end to joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. In the past, it has also called for the United States to end its military presence in and around South Korea.

But in recent statements, North Korea has only hardened its demands, further dimming the prospects for dialogue.

Analysts worry that with talks having stalled, North Korea will continue to produce more nuclear fuel and warheads. As its nuclear arsenal increases, the cost of denuclearization continues to rise.

“You might argue, how can we reward a bad guy like North Korea?” said Jun Bong-geun, acting president of the government-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul. “But sanctions and pressure alone have never worked on North Korea. You also have to offer incentives.”

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Author: ApnayOnline

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