“This is the first time Kim has indicated he could be willing to give up his country’s nuclear weapons,” CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King declares. That might be true of this Kim, but otherwise this news from the White House is a bit of déjà vu. The upcoming talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump will focus on denuclearization, but will they offer it any more seriously than they have in the past?
White house officials say North Korea has confirmed that dictator Kim Jong Un is ready to discuss removing all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula https://t.co/TUf1BB4J3t pic.twitter.com/y9Zj8lA7W9
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 9, 2018
Ahead of potential talks between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. has confirmed for the first time that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, according to an administration official.
South Korea had conveyed a message from Kim indicating his willingness to pause his nuclear program during talks, but the U.S. had not previously confirmed Kim’s intentions directly from North Korea.
According to the White House, it’s the first time they’ve heard this from the North Koreans themselves. This news came from direct talks that have been occurring quietly at lower levels, which Reuters notes are also still “at a preliminary stage”:
North Korea has told the United States for the first time that it is prepared to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Donald Trump, a U.S. official said on Sunday.
U.S. and North Korean officials have held secret contacts recently in which Pyongyang directly confirmed its willingness to hold the unprecedented summit, the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Is it progress? Well, it certainly beats having ICBMs with a range that includes Chicago going up in the air, and having nuclear detonations under the mountains of the Korean Peninsula. In that sense, it’s an improvement, but it’s not clear whether this is progress toward actual denuclearization or another round of Lucy Holding the Football.
We’ve been here before with North Korea, and we’ve actually been beyond it. Pyongyang agreed to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons two decades ago in the Agreed Framework negotiated with the Clinton administration, with food and energy aid as the tradeoff. The George W. Bush administration discovered that North Korea had still been developing nuclear weapons and bigger missile platforms all along, and the deal fell apart. (The Clinton administration knew they were cheating on the deal as early as 1998 but preferred not to risk the deal over it.) The Kims have made nuclear weapons the centerpiece of their strategy to pose as global players and see nukes as the only surefire guarantee to stave off an American invasion. They never intended to remove that guarantee, at least not until now.
Has that changed? It seems difficult to see how. China guarantees North Korea’s security (as long as it doesn’t launch a war first), and that hasn’t changed. Perhaps the most recent rounds of sanctions have finally bitten so deep that Kim and his clique have no choice but to make a deal, but that’s how we got snowed by the Agreed Framework deal too. It’s always worthwhile to sit down and talk to see whether real and verifiable concessions can be realized, but in this case it’s even more worthwhile to remember that paranoid totalitarians rarely follow through on promises to disarm.