The Straits Times says

US, North Korea play high-stakes poker

There was no question that the summit planned in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was going to be anything but easy, never mind the recent camaraderie that followed the meeting over Easter between then CIA director Mike Pompeo and Mr Kim. A complex issue simplified enormously by the short messaging system of Twitter, the American leader's chosen medium, the reaction to news of the likely summit was too rapturous against what is realistically achievable, as consistently pointed out by this newspaper. Hence, North Korea's cancellation of high-level inter-Korea talks and threats to call off the Trump summit should be of little surprise.

The North's reason for postponing talks with the South was ostensibly the ongoing US-South Korean military drills. But its sight really is on differences with the US over conflicting expectations of the "denuclearisation" promised by Pyongyang. Washington is pressing for Pyongyang's complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID), a position backed by Tokyo, before the UN-imposed sanctions are lifted, while the Kim regime's priority is an early lifting of sanctions and a phased approach to denuclearisation. Also relevant in this context is Mr Kim's surprise visit to Dalian to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr Trump's decision to pull out of the US-Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2018, with the headline 'US, North Korea play high-stakes poker'. Print Edition | Subscribe