North Korea no longer a nuke threat?

Trump claim raises eye­brows

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATTHEW PEN­NING­TON AND JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN

WASH­ING­TON — Amer­ica and the world can “sleep well tonight,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared on Wed­nes­day, boast­ing that his sum­mit with Kim Jong Un had ended any nu­clear threat from North Korea though the meet­ing pro­duced no de­tails on how or when weapons might be elim­i­nated or even re­duced.

While Trump claimed a his­toric break­through at the most sig­nif­i­cant diplo­matic event of his pres­i­dency, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, was more mea­sured. He said the U.S. wants North Korea to take “ma­jor” nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment steps within the next two years — be­fore the end of Trump’s first term in 2021.

Pom­peo also cau­tioned that the U.S. would re­sume “war games” with close ally South Korea if the North stops ne­go­ti­at­ing in good faith. The pres­i­dent had an­nounced a halt in the drills af­ter his meet­ing with Kim on Tues­day, a con­ces­sion long sought by Py­ongyang.

The sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore did mark a re­duc­tion in ten­sions — a sea change from last fall, when North Korea

was con­duct­ing nu­clear and mis­sile tests and Trump and Kim were trad­ing threats and in­sults that stoked fears of war. Kim is now promis­ing to work to­ward a de­nu­cle­arized Korean Penin­sula.

But the de­tails of what is sure to be a com­plex and con­tentious process have yet to be set­tled.

De­spite the uncer­tain­ties, Trump talked up the out­come of what was the first meet­ing be­tween a U.S. and North Korean leader in six decades of hos­til­ity. The Korean War ended in 1953 with­out a peace treaty, leav­ing the two sides in a tech­ni­cal state of war.

“Just landed — a long trip, but ev­ery­body can now feel much safer than the day I took of­fice,” Trump tweeted early Wed­nes­day. “There is no longer a Nu­clear Threat from North Korea. Meet­ing with Kim Jong Un was an in­ter­est­ing and very pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. North Korea has great po­ten­tial for the fu­ture!”

Pom­peo, who flew to Seoul to brief South Korean lead­ers, said the brief, four-point joint state­ment that emerged from the sum­mit did not en­cap­su­late all the progress the U.S. and North Korea had made. He said ne­go­ti­a­tions would recom­mence “in the next week or so.”

He bris­tled at ques­tions from re­porters about the vague word­ing of the state­ment where North Korea “com­mits to work to­ward com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula” — a prom­ise it has made sev­eral times be­fore in the past 25 years and re­neged on. Pom­peo said Kim un­der­stands that “there will be in-depth ver­i­fi­ca­tion” in any deal with the U.S.

“We have big teams ready to go,” in­clud­ing ex­perts from the U.S. and other part­ners around the world, Pom­peo said. “We’re pre­pared to ex­e­cute this once we’re in a po­si­tion that we can ac­tu­ally get to a place where we can do it.”

On Thurs­day, the ri­val Koreas held rare high-level mil­i­tary talks to dis­cuss re­duc­ing ten­sions across their heav­ily for­ti­fied border. It’s pos­si­ble North Korean of­fi­cials will seek a firm com­mit­ment from the South on stop­ping its mil­i­tary drills with the United States.

Seoul’s De­fense Min­istry said the talks would fo­cus on car­ry­ing out agree­ments from a sum­mit be­tween Kim and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in where they vowed to take ma­te­ri­al­ized steps to re­duce mil­i­tary ten­sions and elim­i­nate the dan­ger of war.

While Trump was fac­ing ques­tions at home and among al­lies about whether he gave away too much in re­turn for too lit­tle, North Korean state me­dia her­alded claims of a vic­to­ri­ous meet­ing with the U.S. pres­i­dent. Pho­tos of Kim stand­ing sideby-side with Trump on the world stage were splashed across news­pa­pers.

Trump’s own chest-thumping tweet seemed rem­i­nis­cent of the “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” ban­ner flown be­hind Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2003 when he spoke aboard a Navy ship fol­low­ing the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq. The words came back to haunt the ad­min­is­tra­tion, as the war dragged on through­out Bush’s pres­i­dency.

Trump’s claim that North Korea no longer poses a nu­clear threat is ques­tion­able con­sid­er­ing Py­ongyang’s sig­nif­i­cant weapons ar­se­nal.

In­de­pen­dent ex­perts say the North could have enough fis­sile ma­te­rial for be­tween about a dozen and 60 nu­clear bombs. Last year it tested long-range mis­siles that could reach the U.S. main­land, al­though it re­mains un­clear if it has mastered the tech­nol­ogy to de­liver a nu­clear war­head that could re-en­ter the at­mos­phere and hit its tar­get.

Con­cerns about North Korean mis­siles and nu­clear weapons reached a peak last year, dur­ing Trump’s first year in of­fice, as the North con­ducted more tests and Trump and Kim aimed ever more fiery rhetoric at each other.

Christo­pher Hill, chief U.S. ne­go­tia­tor with North Korea in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, sug­gested in an in­ter­view that it’s “a lit­tle pre­ma­ture” for Trump to say Kim is some­one the U.S. can trust.

“Kim Jong Un has proved to be a pretty ruth­less leader in North Korea, and I’m not sure this sort of speed dat­ing of a 45-minute one-on-one meet­ing ... would sug­gest that there’s noth­ing to be con­cerned about,” he said.

AS­SO­Ci­ATEd PRESS

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­swers ques­tions about the sum­mit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Tues­day at Capella re­sort on Sen­tosa Is­land, Sin­ga­pore.

KYODO NEWS VIA AP

Peo­ple look at the ex­tra edi­tion of Ja­panese news­pa­per Mainichi Shim­bun on Tues­day show­ing the re­port of the sum­mit be­tween U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Sin­ga­pore at Shim­bashi Sta­tion in Tokyo. The head­line reads: North Korea prom­ises to de­nu­cle­arize.

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