With less than a week to go before he sits down with his South Korean counterpart, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an impressive set of declarations. Following a meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee this week, Kim declared, among other things, that North Korea would shut down its nuclear testing site—known as Punggye-ri—and stop testing its intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
If there’s one thing the North Koreans are good at, it’s messaging and propaganda. Kim’s announcement was published in the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run news media. Importantly, KCNA is intended for consumption by the world outside of North Korea’s borders.
With momentum in full-swing toward the summit with Moon Jae-in next week and an eventual, still unscheduled, historic summit planned with American President Donald Trump—the first-ever sit-down between two sitting leaders of North Korea and the United States—Kim has all the incentives in the world to make sure that these meetings come together as planned.
If the odds of a Trump-Kim summit stood at 50-50 before Friday’s announcement, they’ve now increased considerably. In fact, Kim has increased the costs considerably for Trump of backing out of a summit.
Without equivocating, it’s fair to say that both the declarations on nuclear testing and on halting the tests of ICBMs are significant concessions. Specifically, Kim announced that North Korea will “discontinue nuclear testing” and that the Punggye-ri site will be “dismantled to transparently guarantee the discontinuance of the nuclear test [sic].” On ICBMs, Kim simply said that no “inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire” would take place after April 21, 2018.
While significant, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that these concessions are being made out of a position of weakness or as a necessary show of bona fide goodwill to South Korea and the United States before the upcoming summits. Kim’s rationale for doing away with the nuclear test site was to underline that North Korea had already successfully come up with the nuclear weapons designs it needed. [Continue reading…]
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