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Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un actually getting nowhere in nuclear diplomacy

Kim and Trump Back at Square 1: If U.S. Keeps Sanctions, North Will Keep Nuclear Program, NYT, By David E. Sanger, Jan. 1, 2019

Nearly two years into his presidency and more than six months after his historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.

That was the essential message of Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s televised speech, where he reiterated that international sanctions must be lifted before North Korea will give up a single weapon, dismantle a single missile site or stop producing nuclear material.

The list of recent North Korean demands was a clear indicator of how the summit meeting in Singapore last June altered the optics of the relationship more than the reality. Those demands were very familiar from past confrontations: that all joint military training between the United States and South Korea be stopped, that American nuclear and military capability within easy reach of the North be withdrawn, and that a peace treaty ending the Korean War be completed.

“It’s fair to say that not much has changed, although we now have more clarity regarding North Korea’s bottom line,’’ Evans J.R. Revere, a veteran American diplomat and former president of the Korea Society, wrote in an email.

“Pyongyang refused to accept the United States’ definition of ‘denuclearization’ in Singapore,’’ he wrote. To the United States, that means the North gives up its entire nuclear arsenal; in the North’s view, it includes a reciprocal pullback of any American ability to threaten it with nuclear weapons. “The two competing visions of denuclearization have not changed since then.”

o                  Mr. Trump and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who is supposed to turn Mr. Trump’s enthusiasms into diplomatic achievements, dispute such conclusions. They note that the tone of one of the world’s fiercest armed standoffs has improved. It has, and both leaders say they want to meet again.

……….By some measures there has been modest progress. It has been 13 months since the North tested a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile, a change that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo cite as the first fruits of what some officials now concede will be a long diplomatic push.

Relations between the two Koreas are warming, though there is considerable evidence that Mr. Kim sees his outreach to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea as a way to split the United States from its longtime ally.

But Mr. Trump’s strategic goal, from the moment he vowed to “solve” the North Korea problem rather than repeat the mistakes of past presidents, has been to end the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, not suspend it in place.

Mr. Trump dispatched his first secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, to Seoul in March 2017 to declare that a mere nuclear freeze would not be enough. Back then, Mr. Tillerson declared there would be no negotiations, and certainly no lifting of sanctions, until the North’s dismantling had begun. A nuclear freeze would essentially enshrine “a comprehensive set of capabilities,” he argued.

The decision Mr. Trump must make now is whether to backtrack on the objective of zero North Korean nuclear weapons even if that means accepting the North as a nuclear-armed state, as the United States has done with Pakistan, India and Israel. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/01/world/asia/kim-trump-nuclear.html

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January 5, 2019 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international, USA

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