On 06 March, a high-ranking delegation of South Korean representatives returned from the first meeting ever between South Korean officials with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Apart from a historic meeting between both Korean heads of state to take place at the end of April, the talks allegedly resulted in Pyongyang declaring that it would agree to nuclear disarmament if the USA gives a guarantee of security for the North Korean regime.

“The chances of broader relaxation will to a large part depend on the USA’s further actions.”

USA is “Cautiously Optimistic”
This last point is the most surprising development. So far, North Korea’s nuclear programme has not been up for debate, preventing any dialogue with the USA. However, Kim Jong-un’s apparent concession in this regard has stirred an only lukewarm response from the Pentagon. Washington has been doubtful of the recent rapprochement between the two Koreas, suspecting that reconciliation was a pretext for North Korea to avoid international sanctions and create disunion between the strong allies South Korea and the USA. And too present are the memories of the protracted six-party talks, which ultimately failed in 2009.

Prospects for Relaxation
While the results of this most recent meeting has raised the prospects of continued calm on the Korean Peninsula, the chances of broader relaxation will to a large part depend on the USA’s further actions. It remains open whether the Trump administration is willing, or able to replace its hitherto heavy-handed stance with a more diplomatic approach, an area in which it has not excelled so far. A major joint military drill with South Korea that was postponed due to the Olympics is still scheduled for the end of March. An implementation, cancellation or reduction of these exercises at the latest would be a clear sign of Washington’s intentions.