It is vital to carefully assess North Korea’s real intent, thoroughly prepare a strategy and make other arrangements to force the country to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
US President Donald Trump has expressed his intention to hold talks with Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, in an effort to denuclearize North Korea. Trump is said to be willing to have the summit talks by May, after a South Korean special delegation conveyed to him Kim’s desire for talks at the earliest date.
If the summit is realized, it will be the first between leaders of the United States and North Korea. Trump’s rash attitude is remarkable. The situation has developed rapidly and in a way that has bewildered Japan and other countries. Progress on the nuclear issue cannot be expected without a decision by Kim, the ruler of a dictatorship. Trump, who has cultivated an image of “deal-making” prowess, appears to be trying to break the impasse through top-level talks.
Resolving the issue is not so easy. It is questionable whether Kim’s verbal message alone -- relayed by the special delegation -- can be regarded as consent to talks toward denuclearization. Many members of US intelligence agencies and the US military, among other entities, are skeptical about North Korea’s move, saying Pyongyang is merely buying time for its nuclear and missile development rather than proceeding with nuclear abandonment. Doubts about strategy coordination within the US government cannot be wiped away.
It is concerning that North Korea seems to be taking the lead in this series of developments.
In his New Year’s address on Jan. 1, Kim boasted of “perfecting the national nuclear forces” and expressed eagerness to improve ties with South Korea. He sent his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to observe the PyeongChang Olympics in February, received a reciprocal visit by a South Korean special delegation to Pyongyang and reached an agreement to hold inter-Korean summit talks in late April.
In a message directed to Trump, Kim conveyed to the South Korean delegation his intention for “denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula,” as well as his agreement to a freeze on nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, and his acceptance of US-South Korea joint military exercises. There is no doubt Pyongyang has set an immediate target for its “smile campaign” in the US-North Korea summit meeting.
Specific steps are essential to achieve the complete denuclearization of North Korea, such as making the country return to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, declarations of the country’s nuclear facilities and nuclear materials as well as verification of their disposal.
Making Kim take these steps is extremely difficult. It must be recognized that inter-Korean and US-North Korea summits are nothing but starting points for a long and steep road toward achieving denuclearization.
North Korea, which took the obstinate stance of “not complying with any denuclearization talks,” has shifted to a policy of promoting dialogue. This must be because the Trump administration has kept bolstering its military pressure and economic sanctions. In the nuclear crisis in the early 1990s, the administration of Bill Clinton looked into the use of force, a move that contributed to Pyongyang coming to the negotiating table and the conclusion of the Agreed Framework between the two countries.
Turning toward dialogue after heightening tensions, and then asking for something in return, is North Korea’s modus operandi. The failures of past nuclear negotiations, whereby pressure was softened due to being swayed by the North’s conciliatory stance, should not be repeated.
It is natural that the White House press secretary said the United States needs to maintain maximum pressure.
It is worrying that the posts of US ambassador to South Korea and special representative for North Korea policy remain unfilled. There are also few US government officials with experience of negotiating with Pyongyang. Trump should form a team quickly to make arrangements for negotiating with Pyongyang and build a long-term strategy.
While acknowledging North Korea’s policy shift, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed in a meeting with reporters that, “Maximum pressure will continue to be applied until concrete actions are taken (by North Korea). The firm stance of Japan and the United States will never be swayed.”
Abe will visit the United States in early April at the earliest to confer with Trump. The two leaders are called on to share the latest information on the moves of the Kim Jong-un regime and a negotiating strategy.
Cautioning both Washington and Seoul against negotiating with Pyongyang in a rough-and-ready manner and making concessions, while also calling for a cool-headed response, is an important role to be played by Japan. Even if the North abandons its development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, the threat of intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan would remain. Japan, the United States and South Korea must repeatedly hold multitiered talks to prevent disarray in dealing with the North.
In telephone talks Friday, Abe sought Trump’s cooperation in resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. Trump responded, saying he understands it well. Many years have elapsed since they were abducted by North Korea. Revealing the entire picture of North Korea’s state crime and realizing the return of the abductees as early as possible -- Japan must press Kim to make political decisions to realize these goals.
By maintaining close cooperation with the United States, the government should seek a comprehensive solution to the issues of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and the abductions.
Editorial by Japan News
(Asia News Network)