Updated Jun 19, 2018

How energy could play a role in North Korea denuclearization talks

A coal power station in Pyongyang, North Korea. Photo: Ayaka/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un offered little visibility on the path ahead for U.S.–North Korea relations. But behind the scenes, particularly in South Korea, there is great interest in using energy as a key incentive to nudge Pyongyang toward further concessions.

The big picture: The U.S. already has an active energy dialogue with South Korea, with imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas and crude growing dramatically. For North Korea, which has only minimal refining capacity and lacks domestic fossil fuel production, U.S. gasoline, diesel and propane would be an attractive asset.

Yes, but: The U.S. has promised fuel exports to North Korea before, during the 1990s peace talks. But for North Korea, increased dependence on a U.S. energy supply chain could be viewed as a new source of insecurity: Like any import-dependent energy consumer, North Korea can enhance its security only through diversifying its imports across both geography and fuel source. North Korea will likely be open to U.S. energy support, but will try to hedge its bets elsewhere — particularly Seoul, which wants long-term energy infrastructure links to regional suppliers and greater access to renewable energy.

The other options:

  1. A Russian pipeline that would deliver natural gas or crude through the Korean Peninsula, serving markets on both sides of the demilitarized zone — though U.S. sanctions on the Russian energy sector would complicate such a project.
  2. A “supergrid” transmission line linking the Koreas to hydroelectric and wind power resources in Western China, Mongolia and Russia. (Only 27% of North Koreans have regular electricity access.)

What to watch: U.S. policymakers will likely offer bilateral incentives to North Korea in the form of petroleum products and grid-modernization investments rather than more complicated regional pipeline and transmission links. But ultimately, U.S. energy exports and investment may prove merely a bridge from the Korean Peninsula to the vast resources of neighboring Russia and China.

Robert Johnston is the CEO of Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 657,691 — Total deaths: 30,438 — Total recoveries: 139,263.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 119,748 — Total deaths: 1,991 — Total recoveries: 921.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump is considering a quarantine on New York, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. He signed a $2 trillion stimulus bill to give businesses and U.S. workers financial relief.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters that supported Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are now balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Infant dies after testing positive for coronavirus in Chicago

Hospital staff working inside a COVID-19 screening tent in Chicago on March 26. Photo: Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An infant less than one year old died in Chicago, Illinois after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, the state health department said on Saturday.

Why it matters: The death would mark the first reported infant mortality from COVID-19 in the U.S. The fatality rate for the novel coronavirus in the U.S. is highest among those over 85 years old, per the CDC.

Trump weighs quarantine of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Trump said on Saturday he is considering a "short term" quarantine of New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut — states that have already taken steps to quarantine residents and promote social distancing.

The big picture: With 112,000 people infected, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy, per data from Johns Hopkins. A second wave of American cities, including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, are reporting influxes of cases.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health