The US and North Korea are seriously considering exchanging liaison officers, an incremental step towards building formal diplomatic relations. News of the discussions comes days ahead of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's second summit, set to take place in Vietnam at the end of the month.
Trump and Kim met in Singapore last year, and both leaders there signed a joint statement that included commitments from each country "to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity." On the US side, there would be several liaison officers sent to set up an office in North Korea, led by a senior foreign service officer who speaks Korean. A similar agreement was made back in 1994, with the "Agreed Framework" leading to extensive negotiating over exchanging liaison offices in each country, beginning with up to seven officers in each. At the time, the US even went so far as to sign a lease for space in the German mission. North Korea also looked at possible sites in Washington, DC. But by the end of the following year, North Korea cancelled the whole plan, thought to be because of tensions after a US helicopter was shot down when it crossed over the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea, at the end of 1994. The talks, while still preliminary, could mark a significant step in the US-North Korea negotiations and yet another departure from the sabre-rattling that defined the early Trump-Kim relationship – all without key steps on the part of North Korea to denuclearise. As North Korea continued to test its nuclear weapons through Trump's first year in office, each side threatened the other, until Trump agreed to meet with Kim to discuss the North Korean nuclear programme. While North Korea has continued to pause its nuclear tests and rhetoric between the two nations has softened, satellite imagery has shown North Korea expanded a key long-range missile base and continued activity at its weapons sites. The top US commander on the Korean Peninsula told the Senate earlier this month that there has been "little to no verifiable change" in North Korea's military capabilities since Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats likewise told the Senate late last month that North Korea would "seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability." Trump officially announced the second summit at his State of the Union address earlier this month, touting his administration's efforts while noting "much work remains to be done."