<Australia Breaknews=Report By James. Kim, New York>
As the U.S. presidential election approaches, North Korean watchers expect a "October surprise," a dramatic shift in U.S.-North Korea relations that will dominate the high ground in favor of current President Donald Trump and make headlines around the world.
Some have suggested that President Trump may choose another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to arrange the stalled nuclear talks with Pyongyang, which could make it imperative for his foreign policy to win a victory in boosting his chances of re-election. Despite all the circumstances of his time at the White House and the "Trump-Kim chemistry," Trump's nuclear diplomacy with North Korea has yet to make any other progress toward the initial goal of denuclearization.
In July, former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton predicted a potential summit as a "October surprise," saying another meeting with "his friend" Kim Jong-un could reverse the situation if the U.S. president falls into "deep distress."
But North Korea denied it, saying it has no intention of being used as a tool to "break through the political crisis" by "facing" the U.S.
Prospects for a third summit between the two leaders were revived this month, with officials from South Korea and the U.S. repeatedly stressing the need to resume stalled dialogue with the North. Secretary of State Mike Pompeii added that the U.S. hopes to resume "serious dialogue" with North Korea to achieve complete denuclearization.
Both the U.S. and North Korea need to pursue nuclear negotiations, but some experts here argue that serious negotiations between the two leaders are unlikely before the election.
The possibility of another summit meeting between North Korea and the U.S. in October is almost slim, said J, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. "North Korea will already benefit from the U.S. president's diplomatic achievements," he said, refuting the possibility of another summit several times.
He added that the U.S. would not reach out to North Korea if Kim was unlikely to return to the talks. This can be interpreted as meaning that President Trump does not have much time and energy to pay attention to North Korea while dealing with domestic issues such as the COVID-19 crisis.
It may be a sign of a loss of appetite for Pyongyang, but President Trump excluded North Korea from his speech at the U.N. General Assembly this month for the first time since he began his term in 2017. Given the U.S. president's track record of using the U.N. stage to warn or praise North Korea, observers say that the exclusion of North Korea despite the worsening relations with the North could prove Trump's change of heart.
President Trump and Chairman Kim met three times, starting with Singapore's first bilateral summit in June 2018, and exchanged many personal letters, citing "deep and special friendship." The second summit in Hanoi in February last year was divided without negotiations as the two failed to narrow differences on the scale of sanctions relief at the cost of denuclearization. The two met briefly at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in June of that year, but only took photos without meaningful progress.
Park Won-gon, professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said, "It is unlikely that there will be another high-level meeting like this, but there may still be efforts by the U.S. to manage the North Korean situation to prevent further provocations before the election."
There is growing interest in whether small-scale meetings between the two countries will be more likely, with the U.S. offering humanitarian aid to the North to stabilize the presidential election.