Nearly two years into his presidency and more than six months after his historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.
That was the essential message of Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s televised speech, where he reiterated that international sanctions must be lifted before North Korea will give up a single weapon, dismantle a single missile site or stop producing nuclear material.
The list of recent North Korean demands was a clear indicator of how the summit meeting in Singapore last June altered the optics of the relationship more than the reality. Those demands were very familiar from past confrontations: that
- all joint military training between the United States and South Korea be stopped, that
- American nuclear and military capability within easy reach of the North be withdrawn, and that
- a peace treaty ending the Korean War be completed.
“It’s fair to say that not much has changed, although we now have more clarity regarding North Korea’s bottom line,’’ Evans J.R. Revere, a veteran American diplomat and former president of the Korea Society, wrote in an email.
“Pyongyang refused to accept the United States’ definition of ‘denuclearization’ in Singapore,’’ he wrote.
To the United States, that means
- the North gives up its entire nuclear arsenal;
in the North’s view, it includes
- a reciprocal pullback of any American ability to threaten it with nuclear weapons. “
The two competing visions of denuclearization have not changed since then.”
Mr. Trump and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who is supposed to turn Mr. Trump’s enthusiasms into diplomatic achievements, dispute such conclusions. They note that the tone of one of the world’s fiercest armed standoffs has improved. It has, and both leaders say they want to meet again.
In a tweet on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Kim’s offers not to produce or proliferate weapons, without mentioning the many caveats. He went on to say that he looked forward “to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”
He swung to the other extreme, declaring after Singapore that the nuclear threat from the North was over — a statement even his most loyal aides have not repeated — and that he and one of the world’s most notorious dictators “fell in love.”
.. By some measures there has been modest progress. It has been 13 months since the North tested a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile, a change that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo cite as the first fruits of what some officials now concede will be a long diplomatic push.
.. But Mr. Trump’s strategic goal, from the moment he vowed to “solve” the North Korea problem rather than repeat the mistakes of past presidents, has been to end the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, not suspend it in place.
According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.
To reach a final deal on the denuclearization of North Korea, the Trump administration must give up something substantial. But Washington isn’t budging... South Korea and North Korea recently announced plans for a third summit meeting between their two leaders, to take place in Pyongyang in September. From family reunions to fielding a joint sports team in the upcoming Asian Games, the two Koreas are moving forward with steps to further détente on the peninsula.
By contrast, the United States has done very little in the two months since the Singapore summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to advance the relationship.
The United States appears to be waiting for the North to take the next step. But the Trump administration is ignoring the reality that to reach a final deal on the eventual denuclearization of North Korea, the United States must give something substantial in return.
Above all, Washington must take steps to ease North Korean fears of an American attack. Without such a guarantee, the North will never surrender its nuclear arsenal.
.. Let’s take stock of the concessions by the two sides.
North Korea has imposed a moratorium on missile tests and nuclear tests. It has dismantled entrances to a nuclear test site (at Punggye-ri) and a satellite-launching site (at Sohae). There’s evidence of a shutdown of an I.C.B.M.-assembly facility near Pyongyang. It has returned what it says are the remains of 55 United States soldiers killed during the Korean War and has released three American citizens arrested in North Korea as a condition for the summit meeting. Pyongyang has also reduced domestic anti-American propaganda.
The United States has canceled one war game.
.. All of North Korea’s concessions were unthinkable less than a year ago.
.. North Korea has never offered to unilaterally disarm first, with the hope that the United States would then do something nice in return. Rather, North Korea has consistently called for a “phased” and “synchronous” approach, with “step for step” negotiations.
October 1999: ‘Sort of wacko‘
January 2000: ‘Very bad people’
September 2015, Trump called Kim a “maniac”
Feb 2016: “I mean this guy’s a bad dude
Aug 8, 2017: “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,”
In April he called Kim a “smart cookie.”
He doubled down on the “fire and fury” comment. “If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” he said.
“Kim Jong Un of North Korea made a very wise and well reasoned decision,” Trump tweeted. “The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!”
I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing.
“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself,” he said.
Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!
.. Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen
The Chinese Envoy, who just returned from North Korea, seems to have had no impact on Little Rocket Man. Hard to believe his people, and the military, put up with living in such horrible conditions. Russia and China condemned the launch.