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What the North Koreans Really Said on July 7

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The July 7 DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman’s statement appears to be a warning message to the US, carefully tinged with a tone more in sorrow than in anger. 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. 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…” The point is not whether the North Koreans actually believe this, but that they are crafting their public position to leave the door open to future dealings between the two leaders.

To reinforce the picture of the personal links at the top level, the spokesman’s statement went out of its way to note that the North had passed a “personal letter” from Kim Jong Un to the President “[b]efore the talks” began. The timing of the letter may also have been meant to indicate that Kim would not meet Secretary Pompeo during this visit. The complaints contained in the spokesman’s statement were like clouds on the horizon ever since the June 12 Singapore summit document appeared. At least judging by the public US position in the intervening weeks, there was, from the start, a fundamental disconnect in the two side’s understanding of the outlines of what had been agreed to in Singapore.

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