North Korea dangles offer of nuclear disarmament
North Korea is willing to hold “candid talks” with the U.S. about dismantling its nuclear program and has promised to halt weapons tests during any negotiations, South Korea announced this week following a historic meeting in Pyongyang. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un apparently made the offer during a four-hour dinner with envoys from Seoul—Kim’s first meeting with South Korean officials since he took power in 2011. “[North Korea] made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed,” South Korean officials said. What exactly Pyongyang would want in return for denuclearization wasn’t clear: It has previously demanded a full U.S. military withdrawal from the South and an end to the U.S. nuclear umbrella. North Korea didn’t publicly confirm South Korea’s statement, but acknowledged “a satisfactory agreement.” Kim also said he’d be willing to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.
President Trump responded to Kim’s offer with cautious optimism. “May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!” he tweeted. He added that he was open to direct talks, but an administration official said North Korea would first have to make “credible moves” toward denuclearization. Meanwhile, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on North Korea for using a chemical weapon—the deadly VX nerve agent—to assassinate Kim’s half-brother in Malaysia last year.
What the columnists said Trump has taken a lot of flak for his “madman” approach on North Korea, said Krishnadev Calamur in TheAtlantic.com. The president struck back at Kim’s nuclear provocations with not only biting economic sanctions but also threats to “destroy” North Korea with “fire and fury.” Many worried Trump would taunt Pyongyang’s volatile dictator into war. But Kim is now talking about renouncing nuclear weapons, something he has “never put on the table before.” Can it be? Has “Trump’s blustery rhetoric…worked?”
It’s a ruse, said Tom Rogan in WashingtonExaminer.com. “The North Koreans are almost certainly playing for time,” hoping to avoid new sanctions or military action while Kim’s intercontinental ballistic missile program edges toward completion. Kim’s father also promised to curb his nuclear activities in 1994, 2005, and 2011—only to pocket the benefits of sanctions relief and secretly escalate the program. Trump should call Kim’s bluff and agree to talks in exchange for “snap” nuclear inspections. Then we’ll “see whether the North Koreans are indeed serious.”
“Say what you will about Little Rocket Man,” said David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. He’s a kleptocrat, a torturer, and a thug. “But he ain’t stupid.” Kim has backed Trump into a corner with this sudden North-South rapprochement. If the president rejects Pyongyang’s diplomatic efforts, he will alienate Seoul, which is terrified that Trump’s belligerence will lead to a devastating second Korean war. And if talks do happen, North Korea’s young despot will attend them in a powerful new position, with his nukes close to “an accomplished reality.” Kim has deftly “maneuvered within view of a victory his forefathers only dreamed of: membership in the world community, on North Korea’s terms.”