Kim Jong-un continues to make promises... for now

When considering the possibility of some sort of normalization of North Korea, we generally envision a series of baby steps. After all, taking a hermit kingdom such as the one Kim Jong-un rules and opening it up to the realities of the rest of the world would be a culture shock for all of its citizens which most of us could barely comprehend. But if the diminutive Dear Leader is to be believed, the transition is moving ahead at a breakneck pace.

On the heels of the seemingly historic summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the North Korean leader promised yesterday that more changes are coming in a matter of weeks, not years. His biggest promise was to shut down his nuclear testing site next month and to allow nuclear energy experts and western journalists to observe the progress. On top of that, he claims to be abandoning ‘Pyongyang Time’ and moving his country back to the same time zone as South Korea. (Associated Press and Daily Mail)

Seoul says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to shut down the country’s nuclear test site in May and reveal the process to experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea.

Seoul’s presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Sunday Kim made the comments during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday.

Yoon says Kim also said President Donald Trump will learn he’s ‘not a person’ to fire missiles toward the United States. The Kim-Trump meeting is anticipated in May or June.

Yoon says North Korea also plans to re-adjust its current time zone to match the South’s.

The promise to shut down the nuclear test site was scoffed at by some observers who claimed that recent earthquakes and test failures had rendered it essentially a wreck anyway. But Kim is saying that there were additional tunnels we hadn’t discovered and that it was functional. This is a claim which at least one U.S. nuclear watchdog group agrees with. But Kim is promising to not only dismantle the site but allow journalists from the west to observe it, along with “experts.” (Presumably he means the IAEA, but that wasn’t specified.)

There are still several weeks for Kim to walk away from all these promises and I’ll confess that I’ve been more than a little skeptical of his assurances. (We have, after all, been fooled many times before.) But if we see American reporters and IAEA officials at the test site next month confirming what’s being claimed, there might be reason to believe that Kim is actually serious. Of course, that still doesn’t mean he’s giving up his current weapons stockpile, but at least it’s a start.

One other sticking point for me was the fact that while the April 27th meeting between the two leaders was going on, North Korean TV wasn’t showing any of it on the news. Instead, they were airing a documentary about Kim’s grandfather. But as of last night, DPRK News was allegedly airing full coverage of the meeting. It certainly contains some spin to make Kim look better, but most of the meeting and the proposals under discussion were allegedly given to the public. If the North Korean government has figured out a way to reveal this jolting news to its people so quickly, it’s another sign that this might actually be real.

There’s a lot being put on the table in advance of Trump’s summit with Rocket Man. Hopefully, he’ll approach the discussions from a position of “not going to actually trust until we verify.” Further, any relief of existing sanctions or new aid to the North should be scheduled only after progress is made on Kim’s promises and verified by western sources being allowed into the country. That seems to be what our new Secretary of State was hinting at in his interview on ABC News “This Week” when Pompeo was interviewed by Jonathan Karl.

KARL: So, you went down there to set up this summit meeting between Kim Jong-un and the president or take steps toward doing that. What do you looking at this – what is your assessment? What is the best plausible outcome that we can see after this first meeting of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un?

POMPEO: Well, we hope a number of things could be achieved. I talked about getting the release of the American detainees. And then we talked a great deal about what it might look like, what this complete, verifiable, irreversible mechanism might look like. And so, when the two leaders the only people that can make those decisions will be in a room together, they can set the course. They can chart the outcome. They can then direct the teams to go deliver that outcome. And the best outcome would be that, that the two agree that they’re going to get there and charter their teams to go make that happen.

Am I getting my hopes up too much here? Trusting Kim Jong-un with anything just sets off alarm bells for me after all these years. But if that disastrously unstable region can be brought back to some level of normality, how do we resist giving it a try? We still need Kim to give up his nukes and ICBMs, though. I fear that’s the stumbling block where all of this could fall apart.