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North Korea’s Diplomatic Strategy, 2018
Author: Mark Tokola
Published August 3, 2018
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With an outbreak of diplomacy under way for the Korean Peninsula, a review of North Korea’s approach to negotiations is timely. A summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in was held on April 27. President Trump has accepted an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un.1 The secretive nature of the North Korean state makes it difficult to assess how it will engage with and what it expects to gain from talks with the international community—not just with the United States and South Korea, but with China, Japan, Russia, the EU, and others. However, its past behavior, official statements, the testimony of defectors, and the expert opinion of North Korea watchers can provide helpful insights.

This chapter presents a brief history of talks and agreements with North Korea prior to the inauguration of Trump, followed by an overview of North Korea’s diplomatic outreach in 2018 to date. It then presents indicators as to what North Korean diplomacy may look like through the rest of the year based on assessments of its stated and implicit objectives—ends it would wish to attain in any event, either through diplomacy or by coercion. I conclude with a list of key upcoming dates and scenarios describing how North Korean diplomacy may play out for the remainder of 2018.

North Korea’s recent diplomatic moves mark an abrupt policy change. During 2017, it carried out in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions three test flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); conducted its fifth and sixth underground nuclear tests, the latter being the most powerful to date and almost certainly thermonuclear; threatened an “unimaginable attack” against the United States;2 and officially announced that it would “never give up its nuclear weapons.”3 If North Korea is indeed now willing to negotiate denuclearization with the United States and South Korea, its diplomacy can at least be described as agile.

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