North Korea Signals Willingness to Denuclearize in Exchange for Security Guarantees

The Kim regime released a statement saying they were open to talks and would not conduct provocative tests while they were ongoing.

NYT (“North Korea Is Willing to Discuss Giving Up Nuclear Weapons, South Says“):

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has told South Korean envoys that his country is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while it is engaged in such talks, South Korean officials said on Tuesday.

During the envoys’ two-day visit to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, which ended on Tuesday, the two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on the countries’ border in late April, Mr. Moon’s office said in a statement.

“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”

If the statement is corroborated by North Korea, it would be the first time Mr. Kim has indicated that his government is willing to discuss giving up nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the United States. Until now, North Korea has said its nuclear weapons were not for bargaining away.

“The North expressed its willingness to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States,” the statement said. “It made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”

If confirmed—and multiple outlets are reporting the same thing—this is a significant breakthrough. It’s a major departure from the DPRK’s longstanding position. The Trump administration should certainly embrace the talks, especially if they come with an interim freeze. Just the announcement would be a much-needed win for Trump, who would claim—perhaps not without basis—that his flamboyant rhetoric and various signals that the administration was pondering pre-emptive strikes was the impetus.

FILED UNDER: Asia, North Korea, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    I’m sure the White House will be careful and reasoned in its response, knowing the delicate nature of these matters.




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  2. mattb says:

    While I support talks, and think that the idea of a preemptive strike against NK is insanity, I also think it’s worth nothing that Kim Jong-un is most likely trolling us. I find it all but impossible to believe that NK is willing to denuclearize for a variety of reasons (most important being the not inaccurate perception that they need nukes to prevent what happened in Iraq and Libya).

    This is most likely an attempt to get some sanctions relief. All that said, I think this is a great opening to restart some diplomacy. Too bad the administration has gutted the State department.




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  3. michael reynolds says:

    Of course Kim wants to talk, we’re giving him what he wants. NK built nukes precisely because we would not guarantee the survival of the NK regime. We set de-nuclearization as a precondition, not an end-state.

    I mean, I hate to harsh anyone’s mellow, but we could have had a deal with NK decades ago if we had been willing to ensure the survival of the regime, but, as some of you may recall, we didn’t want the survival of the NK regime. Remember? And now we’re contemplating talks that start with guaranteeing the survival of the Kim regime? And that’s a win? What? An end-state where Kim’s vile regime is safe, his scientists still know how to make bombs and research into missiles undoubtedly continues? And we win what, out of that?




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  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Donnie is getting played like a fiddle.




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  5. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds:

    An end-state where Kim’s vile regime is safe, his scientists still know how to make bombs and research into missiles undoubtedly continues? And we win what, out of that?

    As opposed to what alternative? It has been, since at least the adoption of the UN Charter in 1945, flatly illegal to invade or attack countries absent at least major signs that they’re about to launch an attack on your or an ally. And no rational observer thinks it would make sense to do that, anyway, given that he possesses the ability to take out Seoul and kill hundreds of thousands of people. If we could get a removal-and-inspections agreement in exchange for sanctions relief and a promise not to invade or attack his regime if he behaves himself, I’d call that a win.




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  6. mattb says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Beyond that, I’m having a hard time seeing what form any “security guarantee” would take — especially in the wake of Trump’s attitude towards the Iran deal. There’s no chance a treaty that NK would agree to could get through Congress. So after that it’s an agreement, and the US has already demonstrated that those aren’t any sort of true guarantee that future administrations will agree to them.




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  7. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:

    If we could get a removal-and-inspections agreement in exchange for sanctions relief and a promise not to invade or attack his regime if he behaves himself, I’d call that a win.

    So something not unlike the Iran agreement — which Trump characterized as the worst agreement in the world and has been trying to get out of since he got into office. I have a hard time seeing NK ever agree to that. I can see them using a lot of tactics to stretch out talks.

    Or will it be like the failed Agreed Framework (which NK was definitely undermining)?

    That said, talks are far superior to military action, so I’m all for giving diplomacy a shot.




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  8. James Joyner says:

    @mattb:

    So something not unlike the Iran agreement — which Trump characterized as the worst agreement in the world and has been trying to get out of since he got into office.

    Pretty much. From the beginning, I’ve argued that the Agreed Framework was simultaneously a shitty deal and the best possible deal we could have struck given Iran’s leverage and the asymmetry of interests. I believe the same conditions persist here.




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  9. MBunge says:

    North Korea has always had a security guarantee. It’s called China. Any further “guarantees” would be nothing but face-saving diplomatic pretensions.

    And sorry to be a jerk about this but let’s check the big board of anti-Trump predictions:

    1. Economy going to collapse? Wrong.
    2. Stock market going to implode? Wrong.
    3. Collusion! Wrong.
    4. Won’t be able to get anything done? Wrong.
    5. Recognizing Israel’s capital will explode the Middle East? Wrong.
    6. War or capitulation with North Korea? Wrong.

    Oh, and don’t forget…

    7. Can’t drill our way out of energy problems? Wrong, and probably the worst of the bunch because it actually started under Obama.

    Now, the game isn’t over and the results could change so utter disaster might still be on the way. However, we have clearly entered the time when Trump-haters have a choice. They can accept reality and adjust accordingly or they can plunge deeper into fantasy, with the latter being a big part of how we got Trump to begin with.

    You don’t have to like Trump. You don’t have to support him. You do need to acknowledge when you are wrong.

    Mike




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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    The alternatives were status quo and deterrence without guaranteeing Kim’s survival, or some lunatic attack, or more can-kicking. But the end point was never supposed to be security for the Kim dynasty. Remember that whole Axis of Evil thing? Remember how Kim was a monster who oppressed his people terribly and we were against that? Was that all a dream?

    So now Kim gets everything he wants – regime legitimacy, presumably an end to sanctions in exchange for what? What is it we get? I’ll tell you: we get an end to our idiot president threatening a war. That’s it. North Koreans continue to be enslaved by a despicable regime and Kim’s Courvoisier shipments can resume, and we get Trump to shut up. That’s our ‘win.’ Our ‘win’ is our side standing down and conceding everything Kim wants.




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  11. Gustopher says:

    Didn’t their last nuclear test collapse a large part of the mountain that they use for nuclear tests? I remember reading about that at the time.

    They might be offering to halt nuclear tests because they cannot currently conduct nuclear tests.




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  12. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So now Kim gets everything he wants – regime legitimacy, presumably an end to sanctions in exchange for what? What is it we get? I’ll tell you: we get an end to our idiot president threatening a war. That’s it.

    We’d get nuclear disarmament, dismantling of the program, and inspections. As with Iran, getting to that point was the whole point behind sanctions, so giving up sanctions to achieve those objectives would be a win. I don’t think Kim would be legitimated simply by negotiations—we had the Six-Party Talks already. And even denuclearizing wouldn’t legitimate him alone, since there would still be the human rights violations. He’d only get legitimated if he started becoming a normal actor. That’s unlikely to happen but I’d certainly welcome it.




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  13. Gustopher says:

    @MBunge: You, sir, are the type of highly skilled and intelligent professional that Donald Trump needs in his administration. A man of your talents hasn’t been seen since the days of Scaramucci, and the position of Communications Director is, once again, open!

    Yes, a career awaits you in the gentle arts of sycophancy.




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  14. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:
    I agree on both counts.

    I guess my point was (a) given this administrations behaviors on similar agreements, why would the NK believe that the administration would honor another Iran-like deal, and (b) if Trump pursues a deal with a similar framework to the one he abandoned with Iran, is the reality that the only real issue with the Iran Agreed Framework that Obama signed it?




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  15. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:

    1. Economy going to collapse? Wrong.

    First…how do you know it’s not going to collapse? Clairvoyant?
    Second…because he hasn’t collapsed the economy, YET, I should support a sociopathic, misogynist, racist, lying, lazy, incurious, low intelligence, buffoon, who thinks that the world’s worst comb-over fools people?
    Nice to see the bar is so low for you.
    Maroon.

    3. Collusion! Wrong.

    You should probably share what you know about this with Mr. Mueller and save the country some money and time. I mean…assuming you actually know something, and aren’t just being a sycophant.




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  16. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    So our win is a return to the Agreed Framework we had in 1994. 24 years of noise and neocon threats and Trump tantrums and we’re going back to 1994 – but with the essential difference of a North Korea that has actual nuclear weapons and launch vehicles.

    And of course it legitimizes Kim. If you ensure the survival of a regime you are unavoidably legitimizing it. When sanctions come down NK gets a huge influx of money and goods and Kim will be a God in North Korea. He goes from being Axis of Evil to Axis of Just Another Thug. Like Putin and Duterte.

    All of which has been inevitable for a long time now, so I guess it’s good we’re getting there, but unless we’re proposing a Dunkirk level of historical ju-jitsu, this is not a win for us, it is a win for Kim. I can only thank God we had a president willing to risk nuclear war in order to ensure the survival of the Kim regime. This is great. Let’s celebrate.




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  17. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Presidents going back to Clinton have spouted silly rhetoric on Iran and North Korea. See my September 2012 piece taking Obama to task about silly talk on Iran that he ultimately couldn’t live up to. It’s frustrating but understandable.

    Regardless, I’d consider legitimate rollback of the DPRK’s program a win. I’m not sure we’ll get that. But I’ve long been a skeptic of the ability to prevent determined adversaries from acquiring 1940s technology.




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  18. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The Trump administration should certainly embrace the talks, especially if they come with an interim freeze.

    Donnie has already he said he won’t talk unless NK de-nuclearizes. So getting the US to the table on the basis of a freeze is a win for NK. Then NK will win concessions for not much in return…largely because Trump needs to put a win on the board. But also because Donnies bluster scares the hell out of SK and they will give up concessions to ratchet down tensions. That is the long term NK playbook – de-couple the SK/US alliance. Like I said…Donnie is getting played by NK.

    “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”

    How exactly is that going to happen with President Bone Spurs holding Military Parades?
    Any gains we make here will be ephemeral…because, Trump.




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  19. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    One of the reasons I am always happy with my business negotiations is that I remember my goal, I know what I’m willing to risk, and I never bluff. Either I get my ‘happy number’ (or better) or I walk, and either is a win for me, because my goal is to acquire an amount of cash that will make me happy, without surrendering control. Money + Control. If I don’t get that it’s not a loss, it’s quicksand avoided.

    I do not understand negotiations that are based on bluff, and ‘bluff’ summarizes American diplomacy since forever. We talk a lot of trash, draw a bunch of red lines, insist again and again that NK will never be allowed to develop nukes, er, deliverable nukes, er, nukes deliverable to the continental US. And once NK crosses all our red lines and does exactly what we insisted we’d never allow them to do, we throw up our hands and say, “OK, Kim, you’re the boss.”




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  20. Kathy says:

    1) North Korea will likely want the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula.
    2) They’ll also want sanctions relief and everything but the kitchen sink, only to add the kitchen sink later.
    3) You can count on Trump to f**k it all up anyway.




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  21. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Not holding my breath. Strikes me as North Korea and Kim returning to their game of negotiations to drag things out (especially if they think Trump is likely hamstrung in a few months by the 2018 elections and out in 2020). If they can get Trump to stop threatening war until then (if they decided he really might be crazy) it’s a win for them just holding negotiations that don’t have to go anywhere. I think the chances of them actually agreeing to denuclearize and allow inspections are closer to 0 than any other whole number.

    Hope I’m wrong (and will eat crow if I am, because it mean’s Trump’s outlandish behavior worked), but I just don’t see it as anything other than a delaying tactic to make them seem like the reasonable ones.




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  22. Lit3Bolt says:

    It’s definitely a ploy, especially since the US is for all intents and purposes sidelined in these negotiations, with State Dept attrition and zero people wanting to work for Trump and Tillerson.

    NK can:

    1. Exploit the goodwill afterglow of the Olympics.
    2. Drive a wedge between South Korea and the US, since the US is currently led by a madman and his quislings.
    3. Prop up the Kim regime for possibly the remainder of his life.

    This operation is aimed at the South, not the US. Either way, NK will win, and “disarm” in exchange for sanction relief, knowing they can always easily “rearm” in the future, or the talks will “collapse” in a way that can easily blamed on Trump and the US, and anti-US sentiment in the South will spread.




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  23. Kathy says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    3. Prop up the Kim regime for possibly the remainder of his life.

    While the US is a huge threat to the Kim regime, it also faces lots of threats from within. One purpose of diplomatic talks can be to make contacts with people who could stage a coup and/or kill Kim and large numbers of his family and other supporters.

    The downside of that is an even more brutal and repressive regime if an attempted coup fails at any stage.




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  24. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    I agree with mattb on the trolling us part, but the ugly reality of this particular phase of this battle of… wits? …witlesses? …bad faith bargainers? …is that Kim right now has–for whatever reason there may be–made a feint toward what Trump is “demanding” and in doing so, has become “the reasonable one” in the eyes of the world. Especially when (note that I didn’t say “if”) Trump raises and demands the verified destruction of NK nukes and facilities before he will agree to enter into the negotiations at all.




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  25. mattb says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Strikes me as North Korea and Kim returning to their game of negotiations to drag things out (especially if they think Trump is likely hamstrung in a few months by the 2018 elections and out in 2020).

    Ironically that would be a case of history repeating itself (in an admittedly inverted way):

    Interestingly, former Clinton administration officials have said they knew North Korea was cheating on the uranium enrichment front dating back to 1998 and planned to use that intelligence as leverage to keep the Agreed Framework in place and the plutonium under lock and key. Other Clinton administration officials will also concede that they never thought they would have to build the light-water reactors because they assumed, wrongly, that the regime would collapse before the reactors would be built.

    source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/09/history-lesson-why-did-bill-clintons-north-korea-deal-fail/?utm_term=.91a82208968f




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  26. Tyrell says:

    @John Peabody: Yes, and one way would be to reach out and warm up things would be free basketball tv broadcasts, especially the March madness bracketology. And another good will trip by Dennis Rodman.




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  27. R.Dave says:

    @michael reynolds: We’ve had three goals in NK for the last 30 years: (1) avoiding a hot war, (2) regime change or at least major reform, and (3) denuclearization. Fortunately, they aren’t equally important to us – (1) and (3) are significantly more important to the US than (2) – so if we can achieve the former in exchange for the latter, I’d call that a win on points. In any case, it was always a fantasy to think that we could achieve all three goals. Peaceful regime change/reform was simply not going to happen, but peaceful denuclearization is possible.




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  28. michael reynolds says:

    @R.Dave:
    I’m not objecting to the outcome. It’s been obvious from the start that we were chasing a lost cause trying to convince Kim (and previous Kims) to give up weapons they felt were necessary for regime survival. Regime survival has always been Kim’s main focus – as one would expect.

    I’m objecting to the Dunkirkization of this story when we pretend that a collapse of the American position is a win. It was our threat of regime change that created the NK nuclear program, the purpose of which was to ensure the survival of the regime – something we are now apparently ready to grant. That is a win for Kim, full stop.

    US: You’re going down, beeyatch!
    NK: Oh yeah? How about these nukes?
    US: Um. . . OK, you’re cool. Great Olympics, amiright?

    That #1 goal you listed of avoiding a hot war was never an issue – unless we were the ones starting said hot war. #2, we have insisted for better than 50 years that the Kim regime had to go. And #3, de-nuclearization only became an issue because we insisted on #2. We made a lot of threats and mouthed off a lot, Kim called our bluff, and our belligerent position collapsed.




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  29. the Q says:

    I think Mr. Reynolds is missing the bigger picture here. This issue is HUGE in Japan. Abe has made it clear (in private) that nukes in North Korea are completely intolerable to Japan and if necessary will “go it alone” to eliminate this threat if it comes to that. They are literally willing to take catastrophic casualties if need be. Moreover, they are willing to accept the option of arming with nukes south Korea AND Japan to achieve this end.

    China will surely object to this development and the whole peninsula will be a hot mess of destabilization. I was just in Japan and spoke with very high ranking officials and they believe the U.S. is wavering in our commitment of our mutual defense treaty. That Bolton saber rattling speech was done for a reason. Abe is totally FOR a first strike but for obvious domestic political reasons can’t publicly come out forcefully for this option.

    The scary part is the Japanese public’s unwavering support of Article 9’s pacifism is slowly being eroded by these existential threats which I believe is a frightening scenario.

    I am totally against the repeal of Article 9 as this threatens to loose the moribund bushido spirit which ultimately lead to Nanking, Bataan,Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I think most Americans are clueless when it comes to the incredible impact we had/have on Japan and I believe it is the greatest thing we have ever done diplomatically in rebuilding that shattered country.

    Ironically, the Republican that everyone hates Doug MacArthur out new dealed the New Dealer when under the new Constitution he: gave women the right to vote, broke up the huge industrial conglomerates (zaibatsu), got rid of primogeniture, recognized labor unions right to strike and collectively bargain, initiated agrarian land reform. In short, old MacArthur built a liberal paradise which the hard working Japanese turned into a miracle of prosperity and civility.

    Now our Pentagon is urging them to spend more on defense, get rid of pacifism and enter the world again militarily. Our potential biggest phuck up after the Iraq invasion.

    If we can get Kim to give up his nukes, this is a huge development for the better.

    There is no way this can be construed as a trivial capitulation to Kim.




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