North Korea Talks Have Entered the Realm of Small Victories
Once upon a time, a couple months ago, National-Security Adviser John Bolton predicted how Donald Trumpâs summit with Kim Jong Un would go down. The U.S. president would swiftly assess how serious the North Korean leader was about giving up his nuclear weapons. And assuming Kim was serious, U.S. authorities would âvery quicklyâ swoop in, take apart North Koreaâs nukes, and ship them off to Tennessee. This week, in a measure of how times have changed, progress from the June 12 summit finally cameâ"and it came in the form of satellites spotting the partial dismantlement of some facilities at a satellite-launch site. âIt is a better sign than nothing,â one South Korean official remarked. The Tennessee Plan this is not.
That said, the demolition work at th e Sohae stationâ"involving a stand for testing engines used in missiles and a building near a launchpad for rocket-powered vehicles that send satellites into spaceâ"is still significant. Itâs true that, as Melissa Hanham, an expert on nuclear nonproliferation in East Asia, has pointed out, North Korea may not need the test stand anymore âif it is confident in [its] engine designâ and moving from testing missiles to mass producing them. Destroying the stand, which can easily be rebuilt if new designs need to be tested, âis a good move, but about the bare minimum that can be done at the site,â she writes. Since the latest frontier in North Koreaâs weapons program is missiles with solid-fuel engines that can be fired from mobile launchers with little warning, the stationary rocket launchpad and liquid-fuel engines tested at Sohae are also outdated. âDismantling Sohae is kinda like taking apart the old Chevy while putting fresh tires on the Porsche,â CNNâs Will Ripl ey observed on Twitter. The very way the dismantling was detectedâ"through commercial satellite imagery rather than international inspectors on the groundâ"is also illustrative of North Koreaâs continued resistance to independent verification of the steps it claims to be taking toward denuclearization. (The Kim government similarly allowed only foreign journalists, not outside experts, to witness the purported destruction of a nuclear-test site in May. It has not yet publicly confirmed that it is taking Sohae out of commission.)
Nevertheless, the recent activities at Sohae, which were first reported by the website 38 North, do suggest that Kim may be making good on his offer to Trump in Singapore to scrap the site. Experts believe the satellite-launch station has played a role not just in North Koreaâs civilian space program, but also in its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could ultimately carry nuclear weapons to the United S tates.
The moves, coupled with news this week that South Korea is experimenting with scaling back its military presence at the border with North Korea and that the North Korean and U.S. governments are haggling over how to return the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War, indicate that nuclear talks with North Korea are still at an early and fragile stage of tentative trust-buildingâ"far from the grand visions of peace and disarmament that Kim and Trump conjured in Singapore. As reports of North Koreaâs ongoing work on its nuclear program and Secretary of State Mike Pompeoâs testy meetings in Pyongyang earlier this month have made clear as well, we have now entered a period of stasis, setbacks, and small victories.
Each party is currently dipping a toe in the water, eyeing the other parties warily, and occasionally leaping back to land. None seems prepared yet to get out ahead of the others and make a bold splashâ"whether in the form of North Ko rea disclosing the full extent of its nuclear-weapons program and agreeing to a roadmap for dismantling it, for example, or the United States joining with the two Koreas to declare an end to the Korean War as a prelude to a future peace treaty.
That goodwill is proving difficult to foster isnât all that surprising. âThe United States and North Korea, for 70 years, havenât had any relationship built on trust,â Cho Yoon Je, South Koreaâs ambassador to the United States, recently told me, in explaining why a process in which the parties simultaneously pursue denuclearization and new relations will require âpatience.â
But the halting progress in recent days is revealing in terms of where nuclear negotiations with North Korea are heading. What the aftermath of the Singapore summit signals is that the only way this concludes âvery quickly,â as Bolton once envisioned, is if it ends in spectacular failure. Success, if it is even obtainable, is a much longer-ter m proposition. As Trump himself observed last week regarding his talks with Kim, just a month after returning from Singapore and claiming to have eliminated the North Korean nuclear threat: âWe have no rush for speed. â¦ We have no time limit. We have no speed limit. Weâre just going through the process.â
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.Uri Friedman is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers global affairs.Source: Google News North Korea | Netizen 24 North Korea