The prospect of a third summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un taking place this year looks bleak despite the so-called “great relationship” between the two who have met twice this year and the US president saying he received a “beautiful” letter from the North Korean leader.
After the breakdown of talks in Vietnam, Kim, in April, said he would wait until the end of the year “for the US to make a courageous decision” on another meeting.
In June, the two leaders had a surprise impromptu meeting at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. That was the first meeting since the collapsed Hanoi talks – the second summit between the two men in less than a year – which ended early after both sides failed to reach an agreement.
A third summit seemed inevitable, especially as Trump announced at the DMZ that the two sides had agreed to resume discussions in the coming weeks. “We’ve developed a great relationship,” the US president said in June. “The relationship that we have developed has meant so much to so many people, and it’s just an honour to be with you and it was an honour that you asked me to step over that line and I was proud to step over the line.”
But since then, movement has been slow and discussions scarce.
Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser, told Al Jazeera: “While both sides are open to having a third summit, they are busy increasing their bargaining power and securing more bargaining chips first.
“Washington and Pyongyang are playing games now to build a negotiation framework and terms conducive to their own interests,” said Chun.
While the relationship between the two leaders seems amicable and Trump has maintained a soft tone towards Pyongyang, North Korean officials are uncomfortable with Mike Pompeo, Trump’s top diplomat.
After Pompeo described Pyongyang’s behaviour as “rogue”, North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said the “thoughtless” comments increased animosity towards the US.
“Our expectations of dialogue with the US are gradually disappearing and we are being pushed to re-examine all the measures we have taken so far,” Choe said in August.
Since Hanoi, North Korea has repeatedly demanded Pompeo’s removal from the nuclear discussions, calling him a “diehard toxin” and accusing him of distorting Pyongyang’s statements.
The criticism, however, has been limited to Trump’s top diplomat and not the US president himself, echoing Trump’s admiration of the North Korean leader.
“The North Korean state media has criticised Trump’s officials in an attempt to skip the working-level talks and continue the ‘top-down’ approach,” Chun said.
“For North Koreans, it is much less burdensome to sit with Trump than dealing with those having the best knowledge of what’s really going on about nuclear issues. But no deal at working-level talks and pushing ahead with a third summit will end up with another failure.”