North Korea Sends A Message To Trump
The DPRK sent a message to the United States over the weekend, but it's unlikely the President was listening.
In yet another sign that the Administration’s policy today North Korea is in a complete shambles, the North Korean government is now saying that it will not resume negotiations as long as the United States continues to insist on disarmament:
North Korea said Friday that nuclear negotiations with the United States will never resume unless the Trump administration moves away from what Pyongyang described as unilateral demands for disarmament.
The statement by an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman published in state media was the country’s latest expression of displeasure over the stalled negotiations. It follows two separate launches of short-range missiles earlier this month that were apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul.
In a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean spokesman accused the U.S. of deliberately causing the collapse of the Trump-Kim meeting with unilateral and impossible demands.
“We hereby make it clear once again that the United States would not be able to move us even an inch with the device it is now weighing in its mind, and the further its mistrust and hostile acts toward the DPRK grow, the fiercer our reaction will be,” the statement said, referring to North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Unless the United States puts aside the current method of calculation and comes forward with a new method of calculation, the DPRK-U.S. dialogue will never be resumed and by extension, the prospect for resolving the nuclear issue will be much gloomy,” the statement added.
These statements came a day or so after another North Korean official spoke out against the apparent seizure of vessels headed to the DPRK which the United States claims were violating international sanctions, and it arguably indicates a more belligerent tone from the Kim regime than we saw for most of last year. As Daniel Larison notes, though, it’s also a sign that the Administration is running out of time to turn its talks with North Korea into something that could actually be productive:
The North Korean side is being very clear about what will keep the process from ending, but the administration appears to be oblivious to what they must do to fix things. The obvious solution to salvage the situation is to give up on the fantasy of complete disarmament and begin talking about more modest concessions in exchange for sanctions relief, but following the failure at Hanoi caused by the administration’s hard-line position the U.S. has moved in the opposite direction. Trump is under very little pressure in Washington to change course because he received so much praise for “walking away” from a “bad deal” when in fact it was his own one-sided proposal that blew up the summit.
This is not the first warning the U.S. has received. Kim Jong-un previously stated that the U.S. would have until the end of the year to change its position, and he added, “It is essential for the U.S. to quit its current calculation method and approach us with a new one.” There has been no sign that anyone in the administration takes this deadline seriously or that they have any intention of devising a new approach that might get the talks back on track.
All of this lies in the Administration’s insistence, which it apparently has not wavered from, that the North Koreans had agreed to “denuclearization” at the Singapore summit. This is belied by both what the North Koreans themselves have said since then and on their behavior since that summit and, of course, more recently. In the months after the Singapore summit. Since those summits, the DPRK has taken steps that made it obvious that there was no real agreement reached between Kim and Trump. \
For example, only a few months after the Singapore Summit it was reported that North Korea was increasing production of the fuel needed to make additional nuclear weapons and that it was concealing the existence of ongoing nuclear weapons research at secret facilities well hidden from both surveillance and, most likely, the ability of the United States to take the sites out in a military strike. Additionally, it became apparent in the days after the summit that the much-publicized destruction of the DPRK’s primary nuclear weapons test site, a much-hyped pre-summit event that was witnessed by American and other international journalists, was much less than met the eye and that the site could easily be rebuilt if needed in the future. Weeks later, we learned that the DPRK had also begun work on the construction of new ballistic missiles at yet another secret site.. Additionally, analysts who have seen satellite images say that the DPRK has made a second large nuclear reactor operational. This type of reactor is capable of making plutonium which is, of course, one of the main fuels used in the production of nuclear weapons. This new reactor can reportedly make four times as much plutonium as North Korea’s current reactor, which has been the source for the plutonium needed for its nuclear arsenal to date. Finally, in the wake of the summit in Hanoi that again appears to have been more hype than hope, Pyongyang appears to be making major repairs to a previously abandoned ballistic missile test facility that could be signs that they are planning either a new round of tests or a satellite launch.
More fundamentally, though, the American position in talks with North Korea ignores the fact that the United States and North Korea have fundamentally different ideas of what “denuclearization” means.
For the United States, it essentially means that the North Koreans would give up their nuclear weapons, their ballistic missile technology, and their research programs in both areas. In exchange, it appears that the United States has made what seem to be vague at best promises about sanctions relief and the grandiose promises that President Trump has made about the benefits that would result from to the North Korean economy if it opened itself to the world even though there’s no indication that Kim Jong Un or the leadership in Pyongyang want that kind of future for their country.
For the North Koreans, “denuclearization” means that the United States would withdraw its armed forces from the Republic of Korea, and potentially Japan as well and that it would end the “nuclear umbrella” policy it has for South Korea and Japan that guarantees American reprisal for any nuclear attack on either nation. It’s quite obvious that neither nation would readily agree to either outcome.
The DPRK is not going to give up its nuclear weapons because doing so would essentially be regime suicide, and the United States is not going to withdraw from South Korea or Japan not only because of the threat of the DPRK but also because it would mean handing a strategic victory to the Chinese. Given this wide gulf the fact that the United States continues to insist upon denuclearization as a goal, and that President Trump has said in the past that he believes it is an easily achievable goal, means that they are setting the talks up to fail from the beginning.
As I’ve said in the past there are things that could be accomplished if negotiations between the United States and North Korea were approached realistically. For example, we could finally negotiate an end to the Korean War via a peace treaty that includes not just the DPRK and the United States but also China and South Korea. This treaty could conceivably include agreements that would reduce tensions along the Demilitarized Zone that would include the removal of troops on both sides that have spent the last 60 years and more on a hair trigger for war. Among other things, this would significantly reduce the risk to some of the most heavily populated areas of South Korea, which at the moment remain vulnerable to a North Korean military strike that could come with virtually no warning. Perhaps, this would make it possible for the United States to remove some of its forces in the future.
Developments over the past year also offer a guide to what talks with the North Koreans could realistically achieve. For example, tensions on the Korean peninsula, which have been on a razor’s edge since the end of the Korean War and ramped up significantly during the tit-for-tat exchanges that took place between President Trump and the North Korean leader throughout 2017, have calmed down significantly over the past year. Additionally, the relationship between North and South Korea appears to be better than it has been in several years during which the DPRK was engaged in provocative activities such as firing missiles at a South Korean naval base and attacking a South Korean naval vessel. Additionally, the North Koreans seem to be practically begging for the beginning of negotiations that would lead to a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, something that hasn’t even been attempted since the war ended sixty-six years ago. Making those changes permanent would be a good thing. However, as I have noted before (see here, here and here), if the United States continues to insist that the ultimate goal of these talks is the idea that North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal, then all of this is doomed to fail. That seems to be the message the North Koreans are sending with their latest comments, and the United States would do well to listen to them.