Photo/IllutrationJoseph Yun, the former top U.S. diplomat handling negotiations with North Korea, responds to an interview with The Asahi Shimbun. (Yuko Lanham)

WASHINGTON--Joseph Yun, the U.S. diplomat formerly in charge of negotiations with North Korea, resigned in March because the Trump administration was totally ignoring the U.S. State Department, he revealed in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

Speaking on Aug. 29, Yun described the deep rift between then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who emphasized dialogue with Pyongyang, and others in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump who advocated a more hard-line stance.

“Tillerson was having a huge fight with the White House and we had no voice in the State Department,” Yun said. “I felt I was wasting my time. That’s the main reason I retired.”

Despite that, Yun gave a positive appraisal of the historic June meeting in Singapore between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it alleviated tensions between the two nations who at one time last year seemed on the brink of a military encounter.

Yun also pointed to a “fundamental difference in understanding” between the two sides regarding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that was spelled out as a goal in the agreement reached by Trump and Kim.

Yun said while Washington was only considering a peace treaty and loosening sanctions on Pyongyang after it had denuclearized, North Korea’s position was a phased approach in which it would receive concessions for every step taken toward denuclearization.

He said that difference was a major reason for the current stalemate in negotiations.

But Yun added that he felt the United States should compromise and go along with the North Korean request for a declaration ending the Korean War.

He also proposed the two nations open liaison offices in each other’s capitals as a step toward fostering trust and confidence.

“I think opening reciprocal liaison offices would be a strong signal to North Korea that the United States is willing to change the relationship and willing to take steps towards normalization,” Yun said.

Yun joined the State Department in 1985. After serving as U.S. ambassador to Malaysia, he was appointed by then-U.S. President Barack Obama in October 2016 to handle negotiations with North Korea.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Question: What is your assessment of the June summit in Singapore?

Yun: I think it was a good idea to have the summit. If you remember last year, we were in a very dangerous situation. We had missiles going over Japan, some landing in the Japanese exclusive economic zone. It was a very, very tense situation. Many people were thinking maybe military hostilities might even break out.

Maybe the joint statement could have been clearer. You can say many of those things. The summit provided a reduction in tensions and an ability for Pyongyang and Washington to begin negotiations.

Q: What do you believe is the reason behind the current deadlock in negotiations?

A: The fundamental difference is that Pyongyang and Washington see what happened in Singapore differently. (The United States argues) after they denuclearize we can do many of these things, including getting a peace treaty and lifting sanctions.

For (North Korea), denuclearization is a step-by-step, “action for action” kind of roadmap.

Q: How do you view what has been described as the brinksmanship style of negotiating by North Korea?

A: I think North Koreans certainly feel that they are under pressure from all sides, including the United States, South Korea, Japan and China. They feel that in order to stand up against their bigger neighbors and hostile forces they must remain unified and not show any signs of weakness. That’s the mentality they come from. Once you begin talking to them, I think they are people like anywhere else.

Q: Do you believe North Korea is prepared to dismantle its nuclear weapons?

A: No. They are not going to give up nuclear weapons just because we say give up. What they want is, “We’re not going to give up our nuclear weapons until we feel a hundred percent comfortable that our security is guaranteed.”

Q: Do you think a second U.S.-North Korea summit should be held?

A: I think they should have the second summit. But the question is: “What will each side be prepared to give up so that they can show some results?” Because, in the second summit, you’re going to have to have more than a very vague statement, which they did in the first summit.

Q: Is there a way to push forward the negotiations between the two sides?

A: There is no fundamental confidence in each other. I think opening reciprocal liaison offices would be a strong signal to North Korea that the United States is willing to change the relationship and willing to take steps towards normalization. At the same time, having diplomatic presence encourages sports and cultural exchange, as well as political negotiations.

Q: How do you view North Korea’s insistence on a declaration ending the Korean War?

A: I believe that the statement in Singapore made it clear that an end-of-war declaration will be part of that. I think it’s reasonable for North Korea to say, “Listen, you promised these things, and so where is it?” I mean, quite frankly, I think the end-of-war declaration has to be done. I don’t agree that (the United States) would lose any significant item by saying the war has come to an end.

Q: What are the important factors for the United States in negotiating with North Korea?

A: I think, for the United States, there are two very important what I call “anchors” on how we deal with North Korea. One is we should not do anything to damage our alliance relationships with South Korea or Japan.

A second anchor is that war with North Korea is not realistic. Those two are, I believe, kind of deep anchors in our approach to North Korea.