A new chapter in the history of the Korean Peninsula might start in the near future.
U.S. President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un are expected to hold their second summit "near the end of February" according to the White House.
Stephen Biegun, U.S. special envoy for the DPRK, will visit Pyongyang on Wednesday to meet with his counterpart Kim Hyok Chol to discuss the upcoming summit.
Trump administration's policy shift on DPRK issue?
The U.S. and DPRK reached an impasse after the historic Trump-Kim summit in July 2018 due to their divergent approaches to denuclearization.
According to Xinhua, the DPRK considers a declaration to end the Korean War as the very first step in building mutual trust and developing bilateral relations with the United States, while the U.S. sees it as a "reward" for the DPRK to make a further commitment to denuclearization.
The DPRK hopes that the U.S. could lift its sanctions while the U.S. urges for a complete and verifiable denuclearization before economic sanctions are eased.
However, it seems the dispute has partly subsided, at least for now.
In a speech at Stanford University on January 31, Biegun stated that Washington is "prepared to discuss any action that could help build trust between our two countries…." though he also made numerous requests including calls for "declaring the full extent of the North Korean (DPRK) weapons of mass destruction missile programs."
According to Brian Becker, executive director of Answer Coalition, Stephen's speech reflects that the Trump administration has shifted its negotiating posture to make it in line with the position of the DPRK which is to have a step-by-step approach, "simultaneous and parallel" concessions by both sides. He commented that it is a profound shift for Trump's White House.
According to Becker, John Bolton, Trump's hawkish national security adviser, has been demanding a complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization as the beginning of the negotiation process, but the Trump administration has rejected that. "They can now sit with the DPRK and make implemental and qualitative steps."
Will U.S.-ROK troop sharing agreement impact the summit?
In 2018, 10 rounds of negotiations were held between the U.S. and ROK on how to share the cost of U.S. troops stationed in the ROK. Since Trump came to power, he has urged the ROK to increase its troop share and expressed his dissatisfaction with the deal with Seoul. He said that he would "like to bring them back home, but that's not part of the equation right now," according to Bloomberg.
But if the U.S. pulls out its troops from the ROK, it will reduce Trump's leverage in negotiations with the DPRK.
U.S. State Department announced on February 4 that the U.S. and ROK have reached a preliminary agreement on the cost of keeping nearly 30,000 troops in the ROK. And according to Becker, the ROK-U.S. troop sharing dispute will not impact negotiations between the U.S. and DPRK.
"I don't believe the wrangling between the ROK and U.S. over who will bear what share of the financial burden of the stationed U.S. troops in the ROK will be affecting this. The DPRK has made it clear that the continuation of the U.S. troops under whatever terms in the ROK is not a major factor and certainly not an obstacle to the coming 'deal' between the DPRK and U.S.", said Becker.
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