With improved leverage, North Korea’s Kim awaits winner of US vote

Hyonhee Shin –

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un awaits the winner of this week’s US presidential election armed with greater leverage in high-stakes nuclear diplomacy, thanks to a more powerful and versatile arsenal of weapons than at the start of the Trump presidency.
While Donald Trump boasts of having prevented war and exchanged “beautiful letters” with Kim, the US president has not wrested a single significant commitment from the North to roll back its weapons of mass destruction programme, according to Seoul officials and analysts.
For Kim, Joe Biden poses a more challenging negotiating partner, more likely to pen a “Dear Jong” letter than engage with him in person — even though the bar for summit diplomacy is lower due to the precedent set by Trump, the officials say.
Pyongyang embarked on an unprecedented series of weapons tests in 2017, declaring itself a nuclear power after undertaking its biggest nuclear blast and longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches. After months of tightening sanctions and trading threats, Trump then became the first sitting US president to meet with a North Korean leader at a summit in Singapore in 2018.
“Kim Jong Un has been doing what he needs to stay in power, and nuclear weapons are the most powerful means of survival,” a South Korean official who is familiar with the diplomacy said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The official called it a “Trump effect” that Biden did not rule out a summit with Kim, even as the Democratic challenger called the North Korean leader a “thug” and said a meeting is possible only if Pyongyang rolls back its nuclear capability.
“Whoever wins the election, he has to solve the question of how to derive substantive denuclearisation under an agreed roadmap that clarifies an end state of the programmes,” another Seoul official said. — Reuters