Kim sets his sum­mit sights be­yond treaty

North Korea says it won’t give up nu­clear pro­gram with­out U.S. con­ces­sions

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Oren Dorell

As North Korea threat­ens to scut­tle Kim Jong Un’s meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump next month, the ques­tion of what Kim wants takes cen­ter stage.

Trump said last week that “great things could hap­pen for North Korea” if the talks planned for June 12 in Sin­ga­pore lead to the iso­lated na­tion dis­man­tling its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Trump’s mes­sage im­plied that sanc­tions could be lifted, which would al­low busi­ness re­la­tions be­tween the North and the United States for the first time.

Last month’s meet­ing be­tween Kim and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jaein ended with a pledge to seek peace on the Korean Penin­sula and rekin­dle eco­nomic and cul­tural ex­changes.

But the North seeks more than a deal on nu­clear weapons or a peace treaty. Here’s what Kim wants:

U.S. se­cu­rity as­sur­ances

Kim’s spokesman said Wed­nes­day that North Korea re­quires a change in the U.S. mil­i­tary pos­ture. North Korea is not in­ter­ested in “uni­lat­eral nu­clear aban­don­ment,” Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Kim Kye Gwan said in a state­ment, ac­cord­ing to North Korea’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency (KCNA).

He ac­cused the White House and State Depart­ment of try­ing to turn North Korea into an­other Libya by in­sist­ing on “aban­don­ing nu­clear weapons first, com­pen­sat­ing afterward.”

Libyan leader Moam­mar Gad­hafi re­lin­quished his nu­clear weapons de­vel­op­ment pro­gram in re­turn for nor­mal­ized re­la­tions with the United States, but he was de­posed in a re­bel­lion sup­ported by NATO.

North Korea can­celed a high-level meet­ing with South Korean of­fi­cials sched­uled for Wed­nes­day be­cause of a U.S.-South Korean joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cise that the North views as a threat.

KCNA called the use of B-52 strate­gic bombers and F-22 Rap­tor stealth fight- ers, both of them nu­clear-ca­pa­ble weapons in the U.S. ar­se­nal, a “de­lib­er­ate mil­i­tary provo­ca­tion” that threat­ens peace.

Peace

North Korea’s agree­ments and state­ments in­di­cate Kim wants nor­mal­ized re­la­tions with the United States.

“An end to U.S. en­mity re­mains Kim Jong Un’s aim, just as it was his grand­fa­ther’s and fa­ther’s for the past 30 years,” said Leon Si­gal, au­thor of Dis­arm­ing Strangers: Nu­clear Diplo­macy with North Korea.

Kim may be will­ing to de­nu­cle­arize and even take steps to dis­arm if Trump com­mits to end hos­tile re­la­tions with North Korea and takes ac­tion to show the United States means it, Si­gal wrote in March in 38 North, an in­de­pen­dent on­line jour­nal that pro­vides anal­y­sis of North Korea.

A prob­lem for U.S. lead­ers has been that North Korea’s to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment is so cruel to its peo­ple and ag­gres­sive to­ward its neigh­bors that con­duct­ing nor­mal trade would be po­lit­i­cally un­ap­pe­tiz­ing.

Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

In his New Year’s speech, Kim said his im­pov­er­ished coun­try was ready to shift to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Past ne­go­ti­a­tions also fo­cused on eco­nomic ben­e­fits. The United States of­fered to ar­range en­ergy as­sis­tance from petroleum pro­duc­ers, build two light-wa­ter nu­clear re­ac­tors that would be dif­fi­cult to use for pro­duc­ing weapons, pro­vide food as­sis­tance and lift sanc­tions.

April’s meet­ing of the ri­val Korean lead­ers ended with Moon’s prom­ise to con­nect and mod­ern­ize rail­road lines and roads. It’s un­clear how the South could keep that pledge with­out run­ning afoul of United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sanc­tions on North Korea. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said the United States would not pro­vide any ben­e­fits un­til the North com­pletely dis­man­tled its nu­clear pro­gram.

‘Ac­tion for ac­tion’

North Korea has long sought in­cre­men­tal eco­nomic and diplo­matic ben­e­fits for each ac­tion it takes to­ward lim­it­ing its nu­clear pro­gram.

In 2005, North Korea com­mit­ted to “the ver­i­fi­able de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula in a peace­ful man­ner.” It agreed with the United States, China, Rus­sia, South Korea and Ja­pan to co­or­di­nate its obli­ga­tions with re­wards “in a phased man­ner in line with the prin­ci­ple of ‘com­mit­ment for com­mit­ment, ac­tion for ac­tion.’ ”

That ap­proach failed, and North Korea re­sumed its de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons.

De­spite the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­sis­tence that it would re­ject the “ac­tion for ac­tion” ap­proach, the North’s com­ments Wed­nes­day show Kim still fa­vors get­ting in­cre­men­tal re­wards.

A way to buy time

North Korea has made agree­ments while still ad­vanc­ing its nu­clear pro­gram and can be ex­pected to con­tinue do­ing so, said Richard Fisher, a Korea and China an­a­lyst at the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter.

While Kim ne­go­ti­ates and vac­il­lates about meet­ing with Trump, his en­gi­neers are prob­a­bly per­fect­ing a weapon that could strike the U.S. main­land, Fisher said.

“They tested two ICBMs (in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles) ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the United States,” Fisher said. “They have not yet demon­strated that the mis­sile could carry a war­head that would sur­vive re-en­try with some level of ac­cu­racy.

“I’m sure they’re work­ing day and night to de­velop a vi­able war­head.”

A green light to work with China

Kim’s ne­go­ti­a­tions with Trump and Moon “al­lowed this mega­lo­ma­niac leader to seem rea­son­able on the world stage,” which could re­duce the U.S. in­flu­ence in north­east Asia — a goal North Korea shares with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, Fisher said.

“Prior to th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions, Kim Jong Un was seen as a mis­sile-rat­tling rocket-boy threat to the world. Xi couldn’t em­brace him,” Fisher said. “Now that the ne­go­ti­a­tions have gone as far as they have, Xi can em­brace this young leader and so­lid­ify their al­ready very close co­op­er­a­tion.”

Kim and China seek an end to the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in South Korea, Fisher said.

“They want the Amer­i­cans off the Korean Penin­sula. They want full range and free­dom to in­tim­i­date South Korea even more and to iso­late Ja­pan. It’s all part of a larger goal of forc­ing Amer­i­can power back to Hawaii and Cal­i­for­nia.”

PARK CHUL-HOG/YONHAP VIA AP

North Korea says the use of U.S. F-22 Rap­tor stealth fighter jets in mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea is a threat to peace.

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