"With a firmer grip on the regime and a strengthened nuclear strike capability, all this diplomacy moves Kim closer to his remaining goals of prioritizing the economy and elevating North Korea’s international standing as a nuclear state. The fact of hosting friendly meetings with foreign delegations and presenting them with memorabilia commemorating the recent success in 'perfecting the national nuclear forces' is a nuclear status fait accompli. And even if North Korea can’t rejoin the international community in full because of continuing human rights abuses and opaque economic practices, going on the diplomatic offensive is a smart way of discouraging the international community—and especially China—from stringently implementing an increasingly suffocating international sanctions regime. Diplomacy is a low-cost means of getting sanctions relief, which will help improve the North Korean standard of living. At the same time, an extended process of reconciliation with South Korea holds out the promise of much needed economic investment and assistance. Already there’s talk of an energy corridor running from Russia, through North Korea, down to the South. That all this encourages greater friction in the U.S.-South Korea alliance and mutes the preventive war narrative that was building last year in Washington is simply a bonus.
Kim’s playing a multi-level game. Thinking in terms of Kim having a singular or primary motivation oversimplifies the reality that diplomacy done right can do many things at once—for example, nudge the United States out of the picture while presenting North Korea to the world as a 'peaceful' nuclear state that doesn’t deserve to be under such stringent sanctions. Kim’s diplomacy encourages a public narrative of rapprochement with both the South and the United States, which in turn helps bring all of his goals closer to reality. North Korea does not necessarily need to abandon any of its nuclear weapons for all of this to happen."The fact that Trump is probably going to meet with Kim in three to four weeks is already a major win for the North Korean regime. Xi and Macron and Saudi Arabia simply put on meaningless banquets and parades and promptly got exactly what they wanted from Trump.
Guess what? Nobody does meaningless banquets and parades like North Korea! It's pretty much their thing.
Anybody's guess is as good as anybody's at this point, but my feeling is that Trump's desire for a "big win" regarding North Korea means he'll take an empty promise of the North de-nuking itself and run for the cameras claiming the Nobel Prize. (No, this is not an exaggeration.) Kim Jong-un will (rightfully) claim that North Korea is now an international player and should be treated as such, human rights be damned. South Korea will, under a liberal, pro-diplomacy president in Moon Jae-in, be happy to move towards further reconciliation with the North as businesses and markets in Seoul can stabilize and go back to "business as usual."
And frankly, given how close to war we came in 2017, that's an imperfect but pretty much O.K. outcome for now.