Old deals re­cy­cled, hard work de­ferred

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Tracy Wilkinson and Bar­bara Demick Tracy Wilkinson re­ported from Wash­ing­ton and Bar­bara Demick from New York.

WASH­ING­TON — The diplo­matic his­tory of U.S.North Korean re­la­tions is lit­tered with bro­ken prom­ises to de­nu­cle­arize and deals gone sour.

At their meet­ing in Sin­ga­pore on Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a doc­u­ment, with scant de­tails and more vague word­ing than those that have failed in the past to bring peace to the Korean penin­sula and rid it of nu­clear arms.

The sum­mit, for all the an­tic­i­pa­tory hype, was never ex­pected to pro­duce much in the way of new poli­cies or strat­egy. But it ac­tu­ally pro­duced less than many an­a­lysts ex­pected.

The meet­ing did suc­ceed in turn­ing down the heated rhetoric, shift­ing the re­la­tion­ship to one of diplo­macy in­stead of threat­ened war and sug­gest­ing a new, ten­ta­tive rap­proche­ment be­tween two long­time foes.

“If the bar for suc­cess in this sum­mit is war or peace, it’s a pretty low bar,” said Vic­tor Cha, an Asia spe­cial­ist in the Ge­orge W. Bush White House. “We got peace.”

But the ab­sence of specifics hands a gar­gan­tuan task to Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and other Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tors who must trans­late what Trump de­scribed as a congenial spirit of co­op­er­a­tion into con­crete steps.

In the months, even years, to come, Pom­peo and his team — and per­haps their suc­ces­sors — will have to try to set out ways to be­gin dis­man­tling Kim’s ar­se­nal and the tim­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion of those ac­tions.

The United States and North Korea have still not agreed on the very defini- Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un participate Tues­day in a sign­ing cer­e­mony in Sin­ga­pore. tion of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion; as far as is known, Kim did not even of­fer a dec­la­ra­tion of the com­po­nents of his nu­clear, chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal ar­se­nal, a step many ex­perts con­sid­ered to be fun­da­men­tal.

“We’ve bought time, we averted con­fronta­tion, but you needed a much more ro­bust de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process,” said Scott Sny­der, direc­tor of the U.S.-Korea pol­icy pro­gram at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

“Pres­i­dent Trump was in full sales­man mode and didn’t have that much to sell,” Sny­der added.

Buy­ing time is a ta­lent the North Ko­re­ans have per­fected, one that takes ad­van­tage of the fact that U.S. of­fi­cials have many other pri­or­i­ties to occupy their at­ten­tion.

For the U.S. now, “what is im­por­tant is not to de­clare vic­tory and go home, but to main­tain the mo­men­tum,” said Joel S. Wit, a veteran ne­go­tia­tor on a nu­clear deal with North Korea in 1994 that later col­lapsed. “Se­nior Amer­i­cans have to stay in­volved and fo­cused.”

In the sum­mit, Trump and Kim treated each other with great re­spect. Kim ad­dressed Trump with hon­orifics in Korean, and Trump called Kim warm and tal­ented, un­usual praise for a despot with such a bru­tal hu­man rights record.

Cha, the former Bush ad­viser, said the per­sonal chem­istry was im­por­tant but not suf­fi­cient.

“How will this be re­cip­ro­cated?” Cha said. “When Don­ald Trump goes to Py­ongyang, Kim Jong Un will treat him re­ally nicely — but he’ll still keep his nu­clear weapons.”

Amer­i­can skep­ti­cism about North Korea is born of his­tory. In ad­di­tion to the 1994 deal that broke down, the North Ko­re­ans also pledged in 2005 to de­nu­cle­arize. In 2012, shortly after as­cend­ing to the lead­er­ship of his coun­try, Kim Jong Un agreed to a mora­to­rium on l ong- range mis­sile launches, nu­clear tests and pro­duc­tion of fis­sile ma­te­rial. Only six weeks elapsed be­fore North Korea tried to launch an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

And de­spite the warmth be­tween Trump and Kim on dis­play in Sin­ga­pore, the dis­trust be­tween the United States and North Korea runs long and deep.

Be­yond the is­sue of trust, the phys­i­cal process of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion could take 10 to 15 years, mean­ing that im­ple­ment­ing any deal — as­sum­ing that one is even­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ated — would re­quire more than one ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ver­i­fy­ing that North Korea was liv­ing up to an agree­ment would likely re­quire ex­pe­ri­enced nu­clear in­spec­tors and Kore­anspeak­ing sci­en­tists who can go through North Korean records to ac­count for the fis­sile ma­te­rial the coun­try has pro­duced.

North Korea has pro­duced enough plu­to­nium to build 30 to 60 nu­clear war­heads, which are most likely hid­den deep in its moun­tain­ous ter­rain. Al­though North Korea’s nu­clear re­ac­tor at Yong­byon is well known and clearly mon­i­tored by satel­lites, the U.S. does not know the lo­ca­tion of some of the cen­trifuges used to pro­duce highly en­riched uranium.

“Ev­ery­thing has to be done in phases so that we can watch each other over a pe­riod of years,” Wit said.

Trump’s crit­ics com­plain that the pres­i­dent has been looking for a quick po­lit­i­cal vic­tory, not a last­ing so­lu­tion to the dilemma that is North Korea.

“He is so vested in suc­cess. Trump wants ev­ery­thing to be fast. He’ll say: ‘This is great. Where’s my No­bel Prize?’ ” said Daniel Rus­sel, an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for Asian af­fairs in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trump touted as a con­ces­sion from Kim an agree­ment by North Korea to help re­cover re­mains of U.S. servicemen lost in the Korean war. That, too, was a re­peat of past deals.

Al­though Trump por­trayed the agree­ment he signed with Kim as “com­pre­hen­sive,” Rus­sel said “it was lit­tle more than a cut and paste” ver­sion of past dec­la­ra­tions — if that. And Trump’s plan to end joint U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises was ill-ad­vised and a “lop­sided” con­ces­sion, Rus­sel said.

“Not only did Trump buy the same horse again, he paid re­tail,” he said.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

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