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.
A day after President Trump’s landmark meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore, the two leaders and their governments sought to shape the understanding of their talks to their advantage. But the contours of the vague agreement remained unclear and open to divergent interpretations.
North Korea’s state-controlled news media said that Mr. Trump had agreed to a phased, “step by step” denuclearization process rather than the immediate dismantling of its nuclear capability, with the United States providing reciprocal benefits at each stage along the way. Mr. Trump has previously insisted that he will not lift sanctions until North Korea has rid itself of its nuclear weapons.
The Trump administration, for its part, insisted that the general wording of the joint statement signed by Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim committed North Korea to an intrusive inspection regime to confirm its “complete denuclearization.” The statement itself, however, did not explicitly use the words “verifiable” or “irreversible” that had been part of the mantra of American officials leading up to the Singapore summit meeting.
“Let me assure you that the ‘complete’ encompasses ‘verifiable’ in the minds of everyone concerned,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters in Seoul, where he flew to consult with South Korean officials. “One can’t completely denuclearize without validating, authenticating — you pick the word.”
When a reporter pressed and asked for more details about how it would be verified, Mr. Pompeo grew testy. “I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous,” he said.
.. “Just landed — a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea,” he added. “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer — sleep well tonight!”
.. critics who accused him of getting way ahead of what could be a long, difficult negotiation to translate the gauzy aspiration of Singapore into a workable plan.
.. “The true test of success is whether the follow-on negotiations can close the gap between the United States and North Korea on the definition of denuclearization and lay out specific, verifiable steps that Pyongyang will take to reduce the threat posed by its nuclear weapons.”
.. the North Korean news agency said the two leaders had agreed to a phased process in which Pyongyang would bargain away its nuclear arsenal in stages, securing matching actions from the United States at each step. Such a process has been opposed by American hard-liners like John R. Bolton, now Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, who has argued in the past that the North must quickly dismantle and ship out its nuclear weapons program in its entirety, as Libya did more than a decade ago.
.. Mr. Pompeo declined to discuss the North Korean report. “I’m going to leave the content of our discussions as between the two parties, but one should heavily discount some things that are written in other places,” he said.
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