June 11, 2019 / 11:06 PM / 13 days ago

A year after Singapore, little change seen in U.S.-North Korea ties: poll

SEOUL (Reuters) - A year after the first U.S.-North Korea summit, most people in countries with a stake in the process think relations between the old rivals have not improved significantly, highlighting a stalemate in their nuclear talks, a poll shows.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore on June 12 last year, after trading insults and nuclear threats that had pushed their countries to the brink of war.

But negotiations aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have stalled since their second summit in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, broke down in February.

In a poll commissioned by the Korea Foundation-Vrije Universiteit Brussel Korea Chair and released to Reuters, most respondents in the United States, Japan and Russia said relations between Washington and Pyongyang were similar to what they were a year ago.

China was the only country where a majority of respondents said the relationship had improved, whereas 30 percent of Americans and 27 percent of Japanese said it had worsened.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI. It interviewed 1,000 citizens in the United States, China, Japan and Russia for two weeks from the last week of May. It is due to be published later in the day.

“The fact that there was no agreement in Hanoi even though in the build-up there were discussions about a deal, possibly including a peace declaration, has had a negative effect in public views about the diplomatic process with North Korea,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, the KF-VUB Korea Chair, who steered the survey.

“The public in the countries surveyed seems to be sitting on the fence, waiting to see whether an agreement is reached or, in contrast, negotiations break down.”

The survey reinforces a common perception that there is no clear option to engineer a breakthrough.

More than half of those surveyed in the United States and Japan believed that sanctions should be employed alongside dialogue in dealing with North Korea.

In contrast, diplomacy was the most popular option among Russians, with 69 percent. In China, 43 percent of respondents prioritized focusing on diplomacy, or supported a twin-track approach of diplomacy and sanctions.

The Trump administration has led a “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea, calling for a comprehensive roadmap to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

FILE PHOTO: A person walks past a banner showing North Korean and U.S. flags ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

But Pyongyang, with the backing of Beijing and Moscow, has demanded that sanctions be lifted in return for the partial scrapping of its nuclear program.

“It is clear that the Chinese public is not siding with North Korea and actually has a nuanced approach toward their neighbor,” said Pacheco Pardo, who also teaches international relations at King’s College, London.

“And the public seems to believe that Trump is key to solve this impasse, as the survey suggests that public opinion thinks that Trump, and by extension the United States, holds the power to use sanctions, diplomacy or both to deal with North Korea.”

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel

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