For both North and South Korea, the fate of nuclear negotiations is top of mind as the two countries look at the U.S. election.
With the talks in disarray, the election could have serious implications for North Korea’s relentless pursuit of an arsenal capable of targeting U.S. allies and the American homeland.
President Donald Trump’s three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since 2018 — which South Korea helped set up — brought a temporary lull to tensions.
But negotiations — which seek to exchange an easing of crippling U.S.-led sanctions for disarmament steps by the North — have now stalled.
If Trump is reelected, some experts say the North would try to resume the summits. North Korea prefers a summit-driven process, which gives it a better shot at winning instant concessions, such as Trump’s surprise agreement to cease major U.S. military exercises with South Korea after his first meeting with Kim.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden, whom North Korea’s state media has called a “rabid dog” after he accused Trump of cozying up to dictators, has endorsed an approach that starts with meetings between lower-level officials. He has also demanded that the North show genuine willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons and missiles.
Some analysts say the North could try to pressure a Biden administration by resuming tests of nuclear warheads and long-range missiles it halted during its diplomacy with Trump. In a recent military parade in Pyongyang, Kim revealed a slew of new weapons, including what appeared to be North Korea’s biggest intercontinental ballistic missile yet.
South Korea, meanwhile, has struggled to deal with Trump, who has been less wedded to historic alliances than his predecessors. Trump has constantly complained about the cost of having 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. A cost-sharing agreement expired in 2019, and the two sides have failed to agree on a replacement.
In an op-ed to South Korea’s Yonhap News last week, Biden vowed to strengthen the alliance.
But Biden would also be much more willing than Trump to strengthen sanctions and pressure North Korea.
“This could possibly force Seoul to choose between denuclearization and inter-Korean relations,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
—Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea
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