Speaking with South Korean Security Chief Chung Eun-yong on Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he wanted to denuclearize before the end of President Trump’s term in 2021.
Kim expressed his “unwavering trust for President Trump” and said “he wanted to end some 70 years of animosity…and achieve denuclearization within President Trump’s first term,” said Chung.
As MSNBC host Brian Williams points out, there is “zero reason” to believe Kim will actually give up his nukes by 2021.
Trump and Kim signed a landmark treaty on denuclearization in June, but Pyongyang has failed to take any real steps towards that goal.
In late July, US officials detected what appeared to be renewed missile activity at the Sanumdong facility in North Korea.
In August, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo canceled a planned trip to Pyongyang after North Korean officials sent a letter to the White House criticizing the Administration’s reluctance to advance a peace deal.
Kim this week seemed to reverse that sentiment, saying he was willing to accept “stronger measures” to dismantle his country’s nuclear program and to move towards a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War. Kim also agreed to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in mid-September.
Secretary Pompeo, who is essentially leading behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Kim regime, was less than enthusiastic about the news.
“It is the case that there is still an enormous amount of work to do,” he said. “We haven’t had any nuclear tests, we haven’t had any missile tests, which we consider a great thing. But the work of convincing Chairman Kim to make the strategic shift which we talked about, for a brighter future for the people of North Korea, continues.”
The question now is whether North Korea will follow through with what Kim is saying. The North Korean leader continues to use the term “complete denuclearization,” which implies the removal of US nuclear forces currently within striking range of North Korea and the cessation of military exercises near the peninsula.
Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis last month suggested that joint military exercises with South Korea might resume in 2019, while Trump said there is no need to spend money on “war games” with Seoul.
“North Korea also needs a cause to persuade its domestic people to denuclearize,” explains South Korean professor Koh Yu-hwan. “In other words, the North may not move any step forward without a cause like a declaration of an end of the war. It seems that the North wants the South Korean government well aware of its intentions to persuade the US in order to advance the overall process.”
From Kim’s point of view, a peace treaty would boost his prestige and make it harder for the international community to maintain sanctions on North Korea.
From Washington’s points of view, concessions have already been made and a peace treaty is a reward to be given in exchange for denuclearization.
On Friday, negotiators from the US and North Korea met to discuss the possible recovery of more remains from soldiers killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War. The meeting was the first direct communication between the two sides since the cancellation of Pompeo’s visit last month.