News & Analysis

Stagnant Congress, Active President: Korean Talks Continue

While Congress continues to bicker over the border wall, President Trump and the State Department continue working towards solutions abroad where the gridlock cannot interfere. This may be most evident in developments between the United States and North Korea, where President Trump and Kim Jong-Un are beginning to forge a stronger bond in order to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un walk together after meeting in June 2018. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un greeted the New Year by saying he “is ready to meet U.S. President Donald Trump again anytime to achieve their common goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.” He further claimed, in a national T.V. address, that it is his “firm will…that we [North Korea] would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them.” A statement that if true, would be a landmark event in the history of the conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Trump has since praised Kim, and the two now plan to host a second summit in February. In anticipation of the summit, Trump tweeted that “This is more than has ever been accomplished with North Korea, and the Fake News knows it. I expect another good meeting soon, much potential!” While it is true that the current administration has made remarkable headway with the Korean regime, regardless of a crippled Congress, any apparent good news must be taken with a grain of salt when coming from Pyongyang.

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North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un posing for photos on January 1, 2019. Photo: Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)/Reuters

The North Korean regime is asking for step-by-step talks, as it has in past negotiations with the West. This tactic has previously resulted in their demanding and receiving aid without ever complying to Western demands. Such failed negotiations resulted in the acquisition of light water reactors by the Kim regime. Given this history, such proclamations by Pyongyang towards peace lack historical credibility.

At the same time, it must be noted that the North Korean government has not conducted a nuclear weapons test since late 2017. A break which should not be taken lightly. The last test resulted in an earthquake at the site causing a tunnel collapse killing 200 people, including 100 test site workers. Given Kim’s claim of seeking an “alternative path” to protect North Korea it may be that the regime has become disillusioned with nuclear weaponry due to the near-Chernobyl incident occurring at their test site. If this is true then the greatest impediment to a sustained peace would be whether North Korea feels they can trust us, an issue exacerbated by our recent involvement in Venezuela’s emerging civil war.

Given the lack of further testing and the seemingly budding relationship between Kim Jong-Un and President Trump, these talks may, in fact, amount to something of substance. President Trump has defied expectations time and time again. He has done so in both USMCA and EU trade talks; and only time will tell whether his upcoming summit with Kim will lead to denuclearization, or aid and broken promises.

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