Thursday, May 17, 2018


The prospects of denuclearization talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began to fade this week.

First, North Korea scolded the U.S. for insisting the Communist nation must “unilaterally” eliminate its nuclear weapons program.

Then, the North Korean regime began having doubts about whether it should attend the summit in the wake of this week’s joint U.S.-South Korean air force drills with a fleet of bombers, an exercise North Korea called “a provocation.”

“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” said first vice minister of foreign affairs, Kim Kye Gwan.

Further, muddying the summit waters for Pyongyang was Mr. Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton’s role in the negotiations.

North Korean officials remember John Bolton’s key role as undersecretary of State for arms control in 2004, when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ended his nuclear arms program in return for lifting U.S. sanctions on his economy.

Eight years later the Gaddafi regime was overthrown.

North Korea has engaged in a number of bitter clashes with Mr. Bolton when he served in the George W. Bush administration, calling him “human scum” and a “bloodsucker.” Yet this month he urged North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons in a proposal that reminds it of the Libyan deal.

“We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Kim said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear Sunday that the Trump administration would lift U.S. sanctions on North Korea if it ended its entire nuclear weapons arsenal.

That offer went over like a lead balloon. Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Kim immediately issued a statement that “appeared to reject that, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for trade with the United States,” Reuters news service reported this week.

“We have already stated our intention for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” Mr. Kim said.

North Korea has said that it is willing to eventually dismantle its nuclear arsenal, but only if the U.S. brings its 28,500 troops home and ends its “nuclear umbrella” alliance with South Korea. That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton have all said that the U.S. wants the “complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization of North Korea — a high standard that Pyongyang has previously balked at,” The Washington Post reported Wednesday. And with good reason. North Korea can’t be trusted.

Still, there are skeptics who think North Korea’s latest accusations are an attempt to squeeze concessions from Mr. Trump to get a better deal.

“A U.S. government expert on North Korea said Kim Jong-un may also be trying to gauge whether Mr. Trump is willing to walk away from the meeting,” Reuters reported.

In fact, earlier this year Mr. Trump declared that he would walk away from the summit if he couldn’t get a good deal.

Joshua Pollack at the Middleburg Institute of International Studies in California, said North Korea was “irritated by the U.S. administration’s vow to maintain sanctions in spite of North Korean concessions,” Reuters reported.

“The North Koreans want a change in tone from the U.S., and at least so far, they’re not hearing one,” Mr. Pollack said.

So, as things stand now, North Korea is playing hard to get. The Kim regime has canceled talks with South Korean officials that were to have taken place this Wednesday.

Foreign affairs reporters have been checking in daily at the State Department to see if it has received any notice of a change in plans. But by mid-week, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she has received no notice of a cancellation.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim are still scheduled to meet in Singapore on June 12, at least for the time being.

• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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