US President Donald Trump’s insistence that negotiations with North Korea are “going well” is directly contradicted by US intelligence findings about the country’s nuclear program. Trump needs to put substance ahead of spectacle – and US allies ahead of his own fragile ego – before it is too late.
.. the Kim regime has continued to solidify its position as a nuclear-weapons state. The master of the Kremlin is sure to have taken note of this.
.. Reports citing US intelligence officials indicate that the North is pressing ahead with its nuclear-weapons program, by ramping up missile and enriched-uranium production and concealing the size of its nuclear inventory.
.. Anyone who has followed affairs on the Korean Peninsula has seen this movie before. After all, Kim’s father and grandfather wrote the script decades ago.
.. Kim has even reused his father’s special effects. In May, he blew up a nuclear test site with the same cinematic flair that Kim Jong-il displayed when he dynamited a nuclear reactor’s cooling tower ten years ago.
.. Trump made a major concession to Kim by agreeing to attend the summit in June. While there, he demonstrated that neither he nor his administration had a strategy for getting Kim to make good on any deal. Making matters worse, Trump has continued to insist that follow-up talks with the North are “going well,” even though US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last visit to Pyongyang ended with a round of mutual recrimination.
.. Pompeo has already backpedaled on earlier US demands, by softening his language on the fraught issue of inspections and verification. And US officials have hinted that a further softening in the administration’s position is on the way.
.. other White House officials have taken a harder line. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has called for not only denuclearization, but also rapid disarmament of all of North Korea’s unconventional weapons. This month, Bolton even claimed to have a plan for dismantling all of North Korea’s nuclear-, chemical-, and biological-weapons programs within a year.
.. For Japan and South Korea, in particular, the contradictions between Trump’s rhetoric and his own intelligence services’ findings are becoming a source of serious concern.
.. Trump’s silence on the latest North Korea intelligence – to say nothing of his siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies on charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election – will further deepen allies’ anxieties. Ignoring North Korea’s deceptions directly undermines the security of Japan and South Korea.
.. because Japan and South Korea both host US military bases, they are at the top of the North’s nuclear target list.
.. Among other things, the North is accelerating production of solid-fuel rocket engines and an ICBM-armed submarine. Both technologies would bolster the North’s ability to launch a surprise attack, by making its nuclear arsenal more durable, mobile, and easily concealed.
.. White House officials are now suggesting that Trump could use the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September to hold another meeting with Kim, as if rekindling the two leaders’ “bromance” will lead to serious negotiations. It won’t. Instead, Trump needs to put substance before spectacle, above all by confronting Kim with the latest intelligence findings.
.. Platitudes about denuclearization are one thing; serious arms-control efforts to reduce the risks on the Korean Peninsula are quite another.