North Korea "ready" to denuclearize, if...

For the past two days, the leaders of North and South Korea have been in a series of rather intense meetings. From all indications, the summit went well and a few tentative agreements were reached. That’s a fairly remarkable achievement in and of itself when you consider the state of affairs between the two nations less than one year ago. While I’ve been skeptical of Kim’s true intentions all along, it’s almost beginning to look as if the Korean War may actually be over.

But what about the interests of America and the rest of the world? Is Rocket Man seriously ready to completely denuclearize? The two leaders suggested that the time may have come, but such things always come with a caveat. And this is a big one. Kim claims to be ready to begin but, once again taking the opposite view from President Trump’s demands, he wants something from the United States first. (Associated Press)

The leaders of North and South Korea announced a wide range of agreements Wednesday which they said were a major step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. But the premier pledge on denuclearization contained a big condition, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stating he’d permanently dismantle his main nuclear complex only if the United States takes corresponding measures.

Compared to the vague language of their two summits earlier this year, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in their second day of meetings to an ambitious program meant to tackle soaring tensions last year that had many fearing war as the North tested a string of increasingly powerful weapons.

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon, and both leaders vowed to work together to try to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

As with far too many historical examples of attempting to deal with Kim’s family, this week’s announcement was long on flowery words and optimistic goals, but painfully short on detail. When it comes to the biggest issue on President Trump’s plate, the only statement we received this time was that Kim would begin dismantling his nukes if the United States takes corresponding measures. What does that even mean? Does he expect us to start dropping sanctions and sending aid? Or is he talking about having us begin the wholesale dismantling of our nuclear weapons stockpile?

Were we dealing with a more rational actor, I’d likely assume that the details were being sent to the White House separately and remaining close to the vest until negotiations are complete. But that’s never been how Kim or his father did business. Grandiose claims are made and then fall through as soon as compliance becomes inconvenient. We’ve been burned by this family multiple times in the past and it almost always follows the same pattern. We lift the sanctions, send them some food and promise to help lift them out of the dark ages. Then Kim gets insulted by some trivial thing and starts launching more rockets.

Still, it’s tempting to think things might be a little different this time. In the past, North Korea has been alone at the table (except for the unofficial support of China) and South Korea was firmly on the other side with the west. A betrayal of the United States was an equal betrayal to South Korea. But now, even if Kim isn’t dealing with a clean deck when it comes to Trump, he’s still talking to Moon Jae-in. If they can reach a point where there’s no war (or imminent threat of war) between them, what’s the point of Kim fighting with anyone else?

Should President Trump make concessions at this point? My default answer is no, of course, because Kim has been a snake for far too long to believe he’s suddenly seen the light. But we also need to understand how the man’s mind works and what makes him tick. He needs to have some sort of victory to show his people at home, both to assuage his ego and keep the support of his citizens. Perhaps a couple of small concessions which don’t cost us too much or grant Kim any significant power could be offered in exchange for allowing inspectors in and actually dismantling some weapons. That would allow Kim to save face and perhaps get the ball moving toward the eventual goal. We can always return to the current policy of maximum sustained pressure on a moment’s notice if North Korea goes back to their old tricks.