North Korea reiterates stance that it won’t denuclearize the region unless the U.S. does likewise

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Fredd_jes / Flickr Donald Trump y Kim Jong un...
Fredd_jes / Flickr

As the months have passed since Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un met for a summit in Singapore in June, progress on economic sanctions and the North’s nuclear program has stalled.  Mike Pompeo has been the point man in the talks, having made several visits there, first as CIA chief and then as secretary of state. But that hasn’t worked out. Trump has said a second summit could be in the offing in January or February.

And now a commentary published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency Thursday appears to make the prospects of success at a second summit chancier still:

“When we say ‘the Korean Peninsula,’ we mean the entire peninsula that includes our territory and the South Korean region where U.S. invasionary weaponry stands,” the commentary said. “When we say ‘denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ it means that all factors that hold a nuclear threat for all regions surrounding the Korean Peninsula are removed, not just within North and South Koreas. The U.S. must clearly know this.”

The piece also urged the U.S. to relax economic sanctions against the regime, saying it would be a show of good faith. “Measures, such as an end to the hostile policy toward North Korea and the lifting of unfair sanctions, are things the U.S. can do without lifting a finger, if they want to,” the report said.

Not only is that tougher than recent statements on the subject from North Korea, but some observers also say it weakens the positive take of South Korea officials who are trying to sustain the momentum of the talks with assertions that Kim is serious about negotiating away his nuclear weapons. A spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in declined to respond to the North’s statement, saying there was “no need to respond to every KCNA comment.” 

This statement reflects no new stance by the North Koreans. Pyongyang has pursued its nuclear program for decades while arguing that any denuclearization must be mutual, with the United States removing its nuclear umbrella over the Korean peninsula. While Washington removed its land-based nuclear missiles from South Korea in 1991, that umbrella now consists of bombers based in Guam and submarine-based nuclear missiles backing up 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea and Seoul’s own substantial armed forces.

Of the North Korean statement, the Associated Press notes:

“When we talk about the Korean peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of [South Korea] where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean peninsula,” the statement said. […]

“The blunt statement could be an indicator that the North has no intentions to return to the negotiation table anytime soon,” said Shin Beomchul, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “It’s clear that the North intends to keep its nukes and turn the diplomatic process into a bilateral arms reduction negotiation with the United States, rather than a process where it unilaterally surrenders its program.”

In Washington Tuesday, at a press briefing, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said he would not “split words” over whether “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” means only North Korea or the broader region. “We are focused on the denuclearization of North Korea,” Palladino said. “We remain confident and we look forward to the commitments that Chairman Kim and that President Trump have made.” 

How this will play out given Trump’s growing troubles at home is anybody’s guess. But you can be sure that, short of worldwide disarmament, no U.S. president will stop basing America’s nuke-carrying bombers in Guam or stop patrolling the seas with nuclear-armed submarines.
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