Post-Olympics détente between US and North Korea?

By Anisa Gallagher

Following the Winter Olympics, Twitter wars and now alleged nuclear equipment deals, North Korea has now, perhaps unintentionally, placed itself at the centre of current international politics. With the sudden resignation of key US diplomat, Mr Yun has raised even more concerns about the future of the negotiations.

The tensions between the two countries heightened during and following the Cold War. The question over North Korea’s nuclear weaponry was first raised in 1994 when North Korea blocked international inspectors from verifying the regime’s adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

North and South Korea’s message of solidarity at the Winter Olympics, presenting themselves as a unified Korea at the opening ceremony and putting forward a Korean ice hockey team was an impressive attempt to showcase the world the willingness of North Korea to negotiate. The Korean peninsula has split the two countries since the 1950s and still no peace treaty has been signed. Although due to the economic sanctions the US has imposed on Korea the uniform they wore at the ceremony was made by a Finnish brand, instead of the official sponsor Nike. The first sanctions were placed under Obama’s presidency in 2016, since them, however, the relations between North Korea have moved from strained to critical. The demonstration of unity still tainted by the current political hostility between the countries.

Contrary to how it may seem, Donald Trump and his administration do have a strategy, an amalgamation of both pressure and engagement. The pressures being diplomatic and economic isolation, including sanctions for other countries, such as China, for engaging in business with North Korea. Professor Bong Young-shik from Yonsei University this could be a potentially dangerous political move. Speaking to the BBC he said;

“The maximum pressure imposed by the US may also compel North Korea to use those weapons as a last resort for survival, so it is kind of a high-risk, high-stake poker game between Washington and Pyongyang”

Further to that, the strong US negotiating position of having complete denuclearisation in North Korea is increasing the pressures on the already unstable diplomatic relations, which is currently understaffed. The scandals such as North Korea being investigated by the UN for supplying equipment to Syria that could be used for the production of chemical weapons.

So far, the likelihood of North Korea engaging in negotiations is unclear, largely down to the mixed messages North Korea have been sending. The North indicated on the last day of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang it was ready for talks, according to South Korea. The US commented on this saying “We will see if Pyongyang’s message… that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,”. However, despite the South Korean office reporting North Korea’s willingness to engage with the US a statement from the North called the new sanctions imposed on them by the US as an “act of war”.

Due to the volatility of the situation it unclear as to whether any progress between the two countries will happen. As it stands some commentators have speculated about the possibility of war, whilst others remain optimistic about the stand-off between North Korea and the United States.

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