Don’t Buy The Hype About North Korea Agreeing To ‘Denuclearization.’
South Korea's President is saying that Kim Jong Un has renewed his supposed commitment to 'denuclearization,' but it isn't at all clear what that means.
In the wake of last week’s announcement by the President that the summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set for June 12th in Singapore was canceled, President Moon Jae In met with Kim in a surprise meeting that Moon claims included a renewed North Korean commitment to “denuclearization.” As has been the case since we started down the path to this summit that may or may not go forward, though, it’s unclear exactly what that means and whether it can serve as the basis for any kind of agreement:
SEOUL, South Korea — The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, said during a surprise summit meeting that he is determined to meet President Trump and discuss a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday.
Mr. Kim met unexpectedly with Mr. Moon on Saturday to discuss salvaging a canceled summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump, a new twist in the whirlwind of diplomacy over the fate of the North’s nuclear arsenal. The leaders of the two Koreas met for two hours on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, a “truce village” inside the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.
Mr. Moon gave the first details of Saturday’s meeting in a news conference held Sunday morning in Seoul, the South Korean capital. He said that during the meeting, Mr. Kim expressed a desire to “end a history of war and confrontation” on the peninsula. Mr. Kim also said he was willing to talk about getting rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, a topic the Trump administration has said was a precondition for a meeting.
Mr. Moon said that Mr. Kim told him he wanted to go though with his planned summit meeting with Mr. Trump, and to make it a success. The Trump-Kim meeting, which would be the first between the heads of state of the United States and North Korea, had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, but was abruptly canceled on Thursday by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump said he was pulling out of the meeting, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” from North Korea. But a day later, the American president said he was reconsidering and that it may still take place as scheduled.
Mr. Moon said the biggest challenge to holding the summit meeting was overcoming the lack of trust between North Korea and the United States, two countries that have viewed each other as threats since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
“Chairman Kim once again clearly expressed his firm commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Moon said. “What is not so clear to him is how firmly he can trust the United States’ commitment to ending hostile relations and providing security guarantees for his government should it denuclearize.”
Mr. Moon said that North Korea and the United States will soon start working-level talks to help narrow the gap between the two sides. He said the results of those talks will help determine whether a summit between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump will take place and, if so, whether it will be successful.
More from The Washington Post:
SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and willing to meet with President Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday. But Moon declined to define “complete denuclearization,” suggesting that there are still fundamental gaps on the key issue bedeviling preparations for the on-again-off-again summit between Trump and Kim.
Kim also expressed concern about whether he could trust the U.S. guarantee that he would remain in power following denuclearization, Moon said after his impromptu meeting with the North Korean leader Saturday afternoon, which was requested by Kim.
“We two leaders agreed the June 12 North Korea-U.S. summit must be successfully held,” Moon said of the meeting, which took place on the northern side of the demilitarized zone.
The rapidly arranged discussion reflects how urgently the two leaders are trying to salvage the U.S.-North Korea summit, originally scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
Moon and Kim met at Panmunjom, the truce village in the demilitarized zone and the site of their first meeting in April, the first inter-Korean summit since 2007.
North Korea’s state media reported after the meeting that Kim expressed his “fixed will” for a “historic” summit between North Korea and the United States.
Kim and Moon also agreed on Saturday to hold high-level talks on June 1 and to “meet frequently in the future,” both countries said.
In addition, the two Korean leaders on Saturday also discussed the implementation of the inter-Korean “Panmunjom Declaration.” The two had signed the three-page agreement at their earlier meeting, stating at the time that “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
The unexpected disclosure of the meeting by South Korea’s presidential Blue House was in stark contrast to the highly choreographed summit in April, which was broadcast in real time around the world with great fanfare.
As has occurred several times in the months since we’ve been moving down the path toward a potential meeting between Trump and Kim, the biggest focus of these remarks is on President Moon’s statement that the North Koreans are still willing to talk about “denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, something that the Trump Administration has claimed will be a goal of any such meeting that the DPRK must agree to if the talks are to go forward. As has been noted before, though, it’s fairly clear that the North Korean idea of “denuclearization” is far different from what the United States has in mind. Those differences rarely get discussed in the American media when it covers something such as this latest statement from President Moon, and they certainly aren’t being acknowledged by the Trump Administration.
In the mind of the United States. South Korea, and other American allies in the region, of course, “denuclearization essentially means the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of the North Korean program.” Repeatedly, it has been made clear that in the minds of American negotiators this is essentially a one-sided deal in which the North Koreans give up their nuclear weapons, and their research program, in exchange for things such as sanctions relief and, perhaps, some loosening of the restrictions on international trade.
When the North Koreans talk about “denuclearization,” though, they speak of the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” This means not only some action on the part of the North Koreans, but also the understanding that the United States would remove any nuclear weapons it may have in the region and that it would renounce the idea of providing South Korea and Japan with a “nuclear umbrella,” which is essentially the threat that any attack on an American ally. It is also fairly clear that the North Koreans also include in their definition of “denuclearization” the idea that the American military presence in South Korea, and potentially in Japan, which the DPRK has made clear it considers to be part of the nuclear threat posed by the United States.
Based on the realities on the ground, this difference in the understand of what “denuclearization” means to each side makes sense given the fact that, as I have said before, the history of the past twenty years or so makes it clear that Kim would be a fool to completely give up either his nuclear weapons or the research program, and to understand why, one need only look to the examples of Libya, Iraq, and other nations that have pursued a nuclear weapons program and the different ways that they have been treated.
Shortly after the war against Iraq began, Libya essentially approached the United States and other western nations and offered what amounted to a deal under which the nation would surrender its nuclear and WMD research program in exchange for sanctions relief and some sense of a guarantee that the regime in Tripoli would not suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. Rather than survival, though, by 2011 Libya found itself in the middle of a civil war with the United States, the United Kingdom, and France actively intervening on the side of anti-regime rebels. At the end of that civil war, of course, Libya’s leader was dead in a gutter at the hands of his own people. This followed on the example of Iraq, which found itself invaded in 2003 notwithstanding the fact that the nation had abandoned its WMD program at the end of the Persian Gulf War. Within just a few months after that invasion, Saddam Hussein had been captured and would ultimately be put on trial and put to death. , after which he faced a trial and ultimately execution. This, as I’ve said before, is why the invocation of the so-called Libya model by National Security Adviser John Bolton, President Trump, and Vice-President Pence over the past month has not gone over well with North Korea. As many foreign policy advisers observed that these remarks could easily be interpreted as a threat by the DPRK.
On the other side of the equation, Kim and the leadership of the DPRK is no doubt aware of the quite different fate of nations that pursued their nuclear weapons research goals notwithstanding sanctions and the admonitions of the international community. In India and Pakistan, for example, we have two nations that pursuant nuclear weapons development notwithstanding international pressure. Similarly, Israel pursued its own nuclear ambitions largely in secret and in direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it still is not a signatory. All three of these nations now possess what is likely a sufficient nuclear deterrent to ensure their survival. Finally, of course, we have the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) and the manner in which the Iranians were treated. Rather than being attacked like the Libyan and Iraqi governments, the Iranians obtained an international agreement that allowed them to largely escape a crippling sanctions regime and, to at least some degree of the Islamic Republic back into the world community from which North Korea has been excluded for the better part of the time it has existed. Notwithstanding the fact that the Trump Administration and much of the news media likes to paint the Kim regime, and Kim Jong-Un himself as unhinged, their actions to date indicate quite the opposite and that they are very much acting in quite a rational manner. Given that, the fact that the United States is looking to a model that led to the leader of an authoritarian regime being killed by a mob and his body dragged through the streets is likely not going to go over very well in Pyongyang.
Jazz Shaw expresses similar skepticism about the prospects of future talks with the DPRK:
Kim is setting things up so that he comes into the meeting with President Trump (if it happens) claiming that he’s the only one who has been putting anything on the table so far. He’s opened a dialogue with South Korea, blown up his testing facility and released the hostages. America has given him nothing but a “wait and see” gesture. So he can ask for at least some of the riches and prosperity that Trump has mentioned before he gives up anything else.
That might leave the President needing to deliver on sanction relief, shipments of food, cash, opening trade routes and help with agricultural technology for the North. In exchange, I can see Kim offering to invite IAEA inspectors in next year after he gets all that and letting them watch him dismantle one nuke and take the pieces away. That would put him a few steps along on that “quest” for a denuclearized peninsula while still holding onto some serious firepower.
If Trump walks away from that offer (which he really should), then Kim winds up looking like the reasonable one and China probably backs him up as long as he makes nice with South Korea.
As I noted on Friday when the President hinted that a summit might be back on the table, all of this indicates that the President could be walking into what for him could be a diplomatic debacle while Kim comes out getting exactly what he wants, international recognition and legitimacy:
What this development tells us, though, is that both Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un would still like a meeting to go forward sooner rather than later, albeit each for their own purposes, Trump, for example, likely views the summit as something that can be pointed to as a sign that, contrary to what the media says, he is a serious player on the world stage and that he ought to be taken seriously. For Kim, such a meeting would essentially serve as a legitimization of him and his regime on the world stage in the form of a one-on-one meeting with the most powerful man in the world. As far as substance goes, though, it’s still quite apparent that the two nations are not exactly on the same page when it comes to the details of issues such as the fate of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, sanctions relief, and what, if any, security guarantees the United States and its allies would be willing to give to the DPRK in exchange for a broader agreement. Until there’s at least a framework for a discussion on possible agreements in this area, it seems clear that any summit meeting would be little more than a photo opportunity that would clearly benefit Kim far more than it would benefit the United States.
So, yes, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future on the Korean Peninsula. Most certainly the events of the past several months have been more encouraging than the fire and brimstone rhetoric we saw from both Pyongyang and Washington last year and, indeed, these appear to be some of the most positive developments we have seen when it comes to the North Korean situation. At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that we’ve been down this road before. Kim’s father and grandfather both made gestures toward peace that they ultimately end up violating after getting what they want, and it is entirely possible that we may be headed down a similar road with Kim Jong Un. Additionally, as I’ve noted, the United States and North Korea are most emphatically not on the same page when it comes to what constitutes “denuclearization” to the point where it arguably doesn’t make sense to go forward with a summit meeting unless and until we can be sure that all parties share the same goals. Finally, for the reasons I’ve stated both here and in other posts, it would simply be insane for the North Koreans to completely denuclearize even with a supposedly “ironclad” security guarantee from the United States. Given that, it pays to be skeptical and President Trump ought to refrain from making room on the mantle for the Nobel Peace Prize that some of his supporters seem to believe he’s already won.