North Korea’s abrupt change in tone began Wednesday when it indefinitely postponed high-level talks with South Korea, blaming the joint military drills with the United States that began last week.
Hours later, the North’s first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, attacked Mr. Trump’s hawkish new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, for demanding that North Korea quickly dismantle its nuclear facilities and ship them out, as Libya did more than a decade ago, before the United States lifts sanctions and provides other benefits.
That demand clashes with the North’s stated strategy. When Mr. Kim met with China’s president, Xi Jinping, twice in the last two months, he sought support for his country’s longstanding demand that Washington and its allies take “synchronized” steps to satisfy the North’s security needs in return for any “phased” moves toward denuclearization.
North Korea turned to China because as the North’s biggest economic benefactor, it can provide the best economic and political cover as Mr. Kim confronts Mr. Trump over his demands.
When South Korea’s leader, Moon Jae-in, met China’s premier, Li Keqiang, in Tokyo a week ago, the two urged Washington to address North Korea’s concerns about its long-term security.
The two leaders agreed that “rather than asking North Korea to make unilateral concessions, the international community, including the United States, should actively participate in guaranteeing a bright future for the North, including security guarantees and assistance for economic development, if it denuclearizes completely,” Mr. Moon’s office said at the time.
But Mr. Trump has yet to clarify how he would reconcile the North Korean demand with his own push to quickly achieve a “permanent, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea. Instead, his top aides have sent out confusing signals.