The news out of Pyongyang last night certainly wasn’t good, though it remains possible that some sort of progress on the Korean peninsula remains possible. Kim Jong-un’s pronouncement that he was canceling a meeting with Moon Jae-in and calling the summit with President Trump into doubt has definitely roiled the waters. The media seems to be scrambling to either declare Trump a failure (see MSNBC this morning) or figure out whether Kim is playing a larger game or just reverting to his normal state of unhinged madness. Either way, he’s made his move and the ball is back in the court of the White House. (CNBC)
North Korea said it is rejecting Libya-style denuclearization, the North’s state media said on Wednesday.
It also says it will need to reconsider negotiations with the U.S. if the Trump adminstration insists on it giving up its nuclear program.
Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s central news agency also said the fate of the U.S.-North Korea summit as well as bilateral relations “would be clear” if Washington speaks of a Libya-style denuclearization for the North.
The original complaint coming from the North was that the U.S. and South Korea were planning on going ahead with previously scheduled military exercises. That’s traditionally been a “trigger” for Kim, frequently resulting in new nuclear tests or the launching of their latest ICBMs in a show of force. But now North Korea has a different card to play. Threatening to reverse all of the “progress” in the ongoing talks is, for the moment, a more potent weapon.
But what is Kim really up to? I’m willing to at least consider the theory that Ed Morrissey put forward last night,
This is likely just a jab, a test to see how Trump reacts (and Moon too, for that matter). Kim’s going into this blind, having very little experience in dealing with free-world leaders, and he’ll want to test their mettle before showing up at the summit. I suspect that Xi Jinping won’t be amused if Kim pulls out now, though, and that’s the relationship that matters most to Kim’s survival.
Maybe. But we’re offering Kim a lot of the benefit of the doubt by assuming he’s suddenly playing three-dimensional chess when he previously approached every diplomatic impasse with a nuclear weapon as his go-to tool of choice.
Still, there’s a case to be made that Kim is closely monitoring international media and looking at least a few moves ahead on the board. As I mentioned above, Kim’s first complaint was about the military exercises, but he quickly moved to shoot down talk of a completely denuclearized peninsula. Prior to this, all of the claims about his willingness to give up his nukes entirely were put out by South Korea, not Kim himself.
Also worthy of note is North Korea’s reference to Libya. That’s been the benchmark which comes up every time we discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Going back to when George W. Bush was issuing warnings to aspiring nuclear powers, there were two examples Iran had to look at. North Korea chose the path of defiance, building their nuclear program. Libya decided to abandon its nuclear ambitions entirely. How did that work out? Kim is now on the verge of having a summit with the leader of the free world. Muammar Gaddafi was dragged out of a muddy drainage pipe and shot in the head.
Now Kim is invoking the Gaddafi example in reference to giving up his weapons. That doesn’t exactly inspire a great deal of confidence. Every time I’ve written about this sudden change in Kim’s attitude I’ve included extensive caveats because I simply couldn’t believe that Kim had suddenly turned over a new leaf. He may still come back to the table, but as of this morning, he’s looking more and more like the old Kim Jong-un we’ve always known.
The remaining question is how President Trump handles this. Do we make concessions to Kim in exchange for half a loaf which leaves him with his nuclear arsenal, getting little more than a summit and a photo op for our troubles? We’ll have to wait to see if North Korea bails on the summit entirely or, if not, what Kim is actually willing to put on the table. I remain pessimistic that all of this is anything more than a game Kim is playing or, even worse, another indication that he’s truly mentally unstable.