US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets top North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in July. Photo: AFP / Pool
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets top North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in July. Photo: AFP / Pool

Media reports following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang last week painted a dire picture of denuclearization talks, seizing on a statement released by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry decrying the Trump administration’s “gangster-like” approach.

But a closer look at the language of the statement has actually led one analyst to be optimistic that a “train wreck” may have been averted during Pompeo’s meeting, and that the door is still open to progress.

In an article published by 38 North, a website devoted to expert analysis of North Korea, Robert Carlin noted that the language in the release suggested some progress has been made during the talks.

“Overall, the key formulations are carefully balanced (e.g., frequently noting the task or dangers ahead for ‘both sides’) and buffered to leave the way open for further engagement,” Carlin said.

“Most important, instead of any hint of criticism of President Trump, the statement ends on a positive note: ‘We still cherish our good faith in President Trump,’ underlining that the problem is not the President but rather ‘headwind against the wills of the two top leaders…,’” he highlighted.

The most contrarian nugget of Carlin’s analysis was his assertion that the statement, and North Korean domestic media’s coverage of the visit, suggests progress was made.

“This train wreck in the making, however, may now have been avoided as a result of last week’s meeting. No one not at the table can be sure of what happened—and sometimes even those who were there do not absorb it right away—but it looks as if the two sides have made progress narrowing the gap on how the negotiations would proceed, how to measure progress, and how progress on one front can support progress on the others.”

The article contrasts with the media narrative following the release of North Korea’s statement that the negotiations took a turn for the worse during the sit-down.

Carlin also noted that in the release, Pyongyang laid out proposals that matched the position expressed in the June 12 summit statement.

“Last week’s Foreign Ministry pronouncement reemphasized that position, laying out the steps the North had proposed at the July 6-7 meeting with Secretary Pompeo that, in effect, ticked all three boxes:

1) Realizing multilateral exchanges for improved relations between the DPRK and the US;

2) Making public a declaration on the end of war first on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula (note: the FM statement puts special emphasis on this step); and

3) Dismantling the test ground of high thrust engines to make a physical verification of the suspension of ICBM production as part of steps on denuclearization.”

In contrast to the pessimistic picture painted in the Western press, the analyst said that “the only whiff of problems the domestic [North Korean] audience got was a brief report on the departure of Secretary Pompeo’s party noting that issues had been discussed ‘in depth.’”