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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Six weeks after the U.S. President and the DPRK leader agreed to resume working-level talks, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton on Wednesday signaled that a phased approach to concessions may not be in the cards.
Speaking to Voice of America (VOA) at the White House, Bolton suggested that Washington remains firm in demanding Pyongyang verifiably denuclearize before receiving economic incentives from the U.S.
The U.S., Bolton said, is “looking for what President Trump called the ‘big deal’” for Kim Jong Un “to make that strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons.”
North Korea would then be expected to “implement it, and then all kinds of things are possible after that,” he added, appearing to imply the U.S. would wait to make a move until a certain point in the implementation process.
Moments earlier, he referenced the ‘economic development pitch’ video President Trump boasted of personally showing Kim during their first summit in Singapore, saying this depicted “what North Korea’s economic future could look like [if] they gave up their nuclear weapons program.”
“The door is open for them to get to that kind of life for the people of North Korea, but they need to walk through it, and they haven’t done that yet.”
It is unclear how, if at all, U.S. security guarantees promised in the Singapore agreement in exchange for Kim’s commitment to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” would play into the process Bolton laid out on Wednesday.
But the top Trump advisor said that at least in terms of economic benefits, possibly referring to the lifting of sanctions, he does not agree with providing concessions in exchange for phased denuclearization steps due to his belief that North Korea could not be trusted to follow through.
Pyongyang has in the past only made “modest” denuclearization efforts for U.S. economic concessions, Bolton said, and “then once they had used those economic benefits — rescued their economy, stabilized leadership — they would fail to honor their own commitments on the nuclear side.”
“If they think that they can do that again I think they’re making a big mistake.”
The White House, he said, wants a “clear, adequate verification and compliance mechanism,” but that these steps “still remains to be negotiated.”
Bolton also said that the two sides “haven’t had really any substantive negotiations at the working level with North Korea since” the Panmunjom meeting on June 30, but added that his team hopes “those begin again soon.”
North Korea, however, has suggested it is not likely to agree to enter into a process which only yields economic benefits once unilateral denuclearization takes place.
Just weeks before the June Kim-Trump meeting, North Korea’s ruling party newspaper published a special article which rejected “‘economic compensation’ and ‘aid’ in return for meeting [foreign countries’] requirements.”
“If we transplant the imperialists’ subcontract economy, we will lose our economic independence even if we can flourish temporarily,” it continued. “And it will later destroy our ideas and institutions.”
North Korea has also expressed disagreement with the oft-mentioned U.S. talking points on denuclearization, clarifying their definition of the term in a statement released last December.
That statement said that “when referring to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it should be understood that this means removing all nuclear threats, not only from North and South Korean territory, but also from the surrounding area aimed at the Korean peninsula.”
Bolton’s comments also run counter to those made by the State Department’s Special Representative for North Korea policy Stephen Biegun made just prior to the June 30 summit between Kim and Trump.
The U.S., Biegun said at the time, was prepared to “make progress simultaneously and in parallel toward the fulfillment of the commitments” of the Singapore agreement.
The Special Representative, however, has been reported to be a possible choice to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, which could see him leave his role leading still-stalled working-level talks with the DPRK.
The comments come after Trump announced last week he had received a three-page letter from Kim Jong Un and that he was looking forward to another meeting soon.
“A nuclear free North Korea will lead to one of the most successful countries in the world!” Trump later said in a tweet.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: John Bolton’s twitter