Why can’t the United States and North Korea just sit down and talk about it?
Over the last year, glimpses of a breakthrough in the long impasse between the two countries have been obscured by anxiety-producing new events — missile and nuclear tests, a bizarre assassination and the cruel death of the American college student Otto Warmbier.
Even talking about what talking would look like has proved complicated.
Nine days after the U.S. presidential election, a pair of former U.S. State Department officials and two North Korean diplomats met discreetly at a hotel in Geneva for talks on how to get their estranged countries negotiating again.
Like others around the world, the North Koreans seemed to be expecting that Hillary Clinton would be the next president, but they were not unhappy with Donald Trump’s victory, according to one of the Americans at the meetings.
“They were surprised at the outcome of the election, but they had an open mind,” said Joel Wit, a veteran North Korea hand who was one of the former U.S. officials who participated. “They were willing to wait and see what the Trump administration would do.”
There was even a slight reason for optimism. During the presidential campaign, Trump had said repeatedly he would be willing to talk directly to leader Kim Jong Un.
“What the hell is wrong with speaking? And you know what? It’s called opening a dialogue,” Trump had said in June of 2016. “If he came here, I’d accept him, but I wouldn’t give him a state dinner like we do for China and all these other people that rip us off when we give them these big state dinners.”
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