A U.S. Alliance with North Korea?

Leon V. Sigal
Reuters

Leon V. Sigal

Security, Asia

Even if Washington cannot flip Pyongyang to its side, it can still fundamentally change the relationship.

A U.S. Alliance with North Korea?

It’s not just the economy stupid.

Sure, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has promised his people prosperity and sanctions are impeding his country’s economic growth.

But pundits who claim that Kim mainly wants sanctions relief are missing a larger point. And so is President Donald Trump when he holds out a vague vision of a brighter economic future for the North Korean people. Kim will not be bribed by a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Yet Trump, while asking Kim to “go bigger” and surrender not just his nuclear weapons but all his weapons of mass destruction first, is not even thinking of putting nearly enough sanctions relief on the negotiating table—never mind what Kim really wants.

To Kim, like his forebears, sanctions are the embodiment of U.S. enmity. As Kim made clear again in speeches on April 12, he seeks an end to that enmity and he needs to hear directly from Washington—not through Seoul—that America is willing to take steps to reconcile before he resumes talks.

Kim’s vision of reconciliation is far-reaching. North Koreans have long been telling their American interlocutors they want an alliance like the one the United States has with South Korea—even including a “nuclear umbrella.”

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