Kim sets his summit sights beyond treaty
North Korea says it won’t give up nuclear program without U.S. concessions
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.
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.
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.”
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.