North Korea promises ‘Christmas gift’ in standoff with US

Threats and stalemate on denuclearization . . .

Despite two face-to-face meetings this year between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the two countries have failed to reach an agreement on a road map for denuclearization. Even working-level negotiations held in Sweden in October failed. And as the end-of-the-year deadline fixed by North Korea to end negotiations quickly approaches, tensions are rising again with Pyongyang threatening to send a "Christmas gift" – likely an ICMB test – if U.S.-led sanctions are not eased. In response, the U.S. convened a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, and President Trump warned Kim not to end their special relationship.

Window for negotiated solution closing . . .

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have waxed and waned over the years. After tensions spiked in 2017, there were hopes that the personal relationship Trump had developed with Kim could lead to an agreement on denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. But according to experts, the recent missile tests and threats from North Korea highlight the success of the latter’s nuclear program and the failure of the U.S. to forestall it. And with North Korea now considered a de facto nuclear weapons state, the window of opportunity for a negotiated agreement is closing quickly.

New year, new crisis?

The failure of U.S. policy toward North Korea in 2019 could evolve into a new crisis in 2020. With little diplomatic progress made on the nuclear issue, experts expect North Korea to return to a familiar tactic: manufacturing a crisis in order to gain concessions for its willingness to de-escalate. But while tensions between the U.S. and North Korea seem poised to ramp up before the end of the year, the chances of seeing the situation evolve into a full conflict remain marginal, especially as we get closer to the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.