Ryan Pickrell, DCNF
The Trump administration is reportedly beginning to doubt North Korea’s commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” ahead of the president’s highly anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
President Donald Trump has “begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding” with the summit, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing U.S. officials.
“It doesn’t look like they want to denuclearize at all,” a senior Trump administration official explained to The Washington Post. “The North’s attitude is a pretty long distance away from what it appeared to be as [South Korean President Moon Jae-in] portrayed. It’s looking pretty different from that. It’s looking more like the old playbook.”
Trump and Moon spoke over the phone this past weekend, and the two leaders will meet in Washington Tuesday. “It increasingly looks like the Moon administration overstated North Korea’s willingness to deal. Moon will probably get an earful over that,” Robert Kelly, a North Korea expert and professor of political science at Pusan National University, tweeted Sunday.
Trump has already accused China of negatively influencing North Korea, perhaps taking steps to shift the blame should the upcoming summit fail to produce the desired results.
After weeks of unusually peaceful rhetoric, the North Korean foreign ministry released a statement in May strongly criticizing the Trump administration, reportedly surprising and upsetting Trump. The statement carried by North Korean state media explicitly stated that the president and his team had missed the point, arguing that claims the “maximum pressure” strategy have forced a weakened North Korea to the negotiating table are misguided and stressing that it will not trade away its nuclear arsenal for economic salvation from sanctions.
North Korea also bashed the Trump administration’s comparison of North Korea, a country believed to be in possession of a functional nuclear arsenal to Libya, a country which forfeited its nuclear program in the early stages of nuclear development. Last year, North Korea tested two types of intercontinental ballistic missiles, both with the theoretical ability to strike the continental U.S., and a staged thermonuclear bomb, developments that led Kim to declare the completion of the state nuclear force. At the start of this year, Kim stressed the need to mass produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for rapid deployment, a statement that was largely overlooked amid talk of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea, judging from its recent statements, appears to perceive itself as a country that against all odds, including unbelievable international pressure, emerged as a nuclear-armed country, and it is pushing the rest of the world to view it the same way.
Jeffrey Lewis, a leading North Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, argues that the foreign ministry statement clarifies that Kim ultimately wants recognition, not disarmament. “Kim wants recognition for North Korea as a country, recognition for his family’s right to rule it as a personal fiefdom and, ultimately, recognition of North Korea’s status as a nuclear-armed power,” he explained in an opinion article in The Post.
He notes that Kim is merely offering a certain degree of restraint, not denuclearization as the U.S. envisions it.
Expert observers argue that Trump’s surprise stems from months of misleading statements by South Korean and U.S. officials about the president’s impact on North Korea and what exactly the country is offering.
Trump, apparently infuriated by North Korea’s highly-critical statement, warned Kim last Thursday that a failure to make a deal may result in brutal regime change, a fate that befell Muammar Gaddafi, the former leader of Libya.
Despite the president’s reported concerns about the summit with Kim, the Trump administration has not announced plans to cancel the meeting, and preparations are continuing accordingly.
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