March 12–Returning home a day early from a diplomatic trip in Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to attend meetings on North Korea on Tuesday. It will be the first chance the top diplomat has to engage with the U.S. national security team since President Donald Trump announced plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un by May.
Invitation is ‘A Trap’
Trump’s announcement came as a surprise to many analysts. Some, like long-time diplomacy NBC news reporter Andrea Mitchell, warned that Kim’s invitation was a “trap” for the United States. “We do not yet know what [Kim] is even offering,” she said on NBC Meet the Press. She said “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” would mean that the United States would have to eliminate its nuclear umbrella in South Korea.
‘Talks, Not Negotiations’
On Friday, Tillerson gave a statement to the press clarifying that the high-level meeting between the two leaders would not involve diplomatic dealings. “The conditions are not right for negotiations,” he said. “But we’ve been open to talks for some time.”
Trump’s decision to meet with Kim was “a decision the president took himself,” Tillerson said. He added that Trump’s willingness to talk with Kim “was no surprise” given the president’s past statements. What was surprising, Tillerson added, was that Kim’s posture during meetings with South Korean delegates appeared to change “in a very dramatic way.”
China is a Key Player
After meeting with Trump at the White House, South Korea’s lead delegate in the inter-Korean talks traveled to China to brief leaders there. Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, met Chinese President Xi Jinping today. Chung gave credit to China for its “active support and contribution” for the “various advances” made toward “peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” For his part, Xi expressed hope for continued progress. “We expect a smooth DPRK-ROK summit and DPRK-US dialogue,” Xi said, according to an article in China Daily Hong Kong.
As North Korea’s largest trading partner, closest neighbor and ally, China plays a key role in any dialogue. Furthermore, U.S. and United Nations sanctions against North Korea impact several Chinese national individuals and businesses.
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