- - Tuesday, March 20, 2018


President Donald Trump’s bold decision to accept the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a meeting was unprecedented. Although this will be the first meeting of a sitting president with a North Korean leader, it follows a series of temporary successes the U.S. has had with North Korea during the past 25 years.

The 1994 Agreed Framework halted North Korea’s plutonium program for an extended period; the 1999 (Secretary of Defense) Perry Process arranged for the visit of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to visit Pyongyang and meet with Kim Jong-il, in preparation for a visit of President Bill Clinton to North Korea that didn’t materialize; the Sept. 19, 2005, Joint Statement of the Six Party Talks committed North Korea to comprehensive dismantlement of its nuclear programs, in return for security assurances and other deliverables.

Each of these initiatives was encouraging at the time, but ultimately failed. Mr. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un could reverse this cycle. The 25 years of negotiations with North Korea provides the lessons necessary to ensure that any agreement reached with Kim Jong-un is a just and verifiable agreement that permanently resolves the nuclear and other issues with North Korea.

Kim Jong-un’s apparent willingness to improve relations with South Korea and the U.S. shouldn’t be too surprising. Sanctions were biting and North Korea was more isolated than ever before, even with its ally China. Joint U.S.-ROK military exercises were intimidating, with the prospect of pre-emptive military action.

Additionally, Kim Jong-un must have been satisfied with the nuclear and missile progress made in 2017, with 25 missiles launched, to include an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the whole of the U.S. and a nuclear test of a reported hydrogen bomb. Thus, 2017 was a seminal year for Kim Jong-un — he was hurting economically but confident that he established North Korea as a formidable nuclear weapons state.

This mix of pain and confidence likely motivated Kim Jong-un to reach out to South Korea, with his willingness to participate in the Winter Olympics and his invitation to President Moon Jae-in for a summit meeting, and his subsequent invitation to Mr. Trump for a bilateral meeting.

According to South Korea, Kim Jong-un told the two South Korean visitors, National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon, who dined for four hours with Kim Jong-un on March 5, that North Korea would not need nuclear weapons if they had security assurances from the U.S., while committing North Korea to a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests during meetings with the U.S., while also not opposing joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises scheduled for this period.

A meeting with Mr. Trump will focus on two core issues with North Korea: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and security assurances. U.S. policy on the nuclear issue is clear: Complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons programs has been and should be required of North Korea.

To accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state would be a monumental mistake. North Korea with even a few nuclear weapons would encourage other countries in the region to seek their own nuclear weapons, regardless of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence commitments. Also of concern is the possibility that North Korea would sell a nuclear weapon or fissile material to a rogue state or non-state terrorist actor.

Thus, a verification regime to monitor the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programs will be necessary, with strict timelines to ensure compliance. Also, the U.S. military presence in South Korea and the joint military exercises are issues between the U.S. and South Korea and should not be part of any nuclear dismantlement negotiation.

To expect North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs comprehensively and verifiably will require powerful security assurances. In addition, a statement that the U.S. has no intention to attack or invade North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons, a commitment to negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and to take steps to normalize relations will be required, ideally with the initial establishment of liaison offices in the respective capitals.

North Korea realizes that its best security assurance is normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. Establishing a process to comprehensively dismantle its nuclear weapons and nuclear programs will move North Korea toward formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. However, for full diplomatic relations, North Korea should be required to address and resolve its human rights abuses and the myriad of illicit activities perpetrated against the U.S., to include counterfeiting our currency, pharmaceuticals and cigarettes.

Kim Jong-un is the sole leader in North Korea. Others who opposed his views or were a threat to his leadership were eliminated. Thus, it’s fair to assume that Kim Jong-un in his meeting with Mr. Trump can commit North Korea to comprehensive and verifiable nuclear dismantlement, and an agreement to address the human rights abuses in North Korea, with the closure of the numerous gulags that imprison its people, while also immediately halting their vast counterfeiting activities.

Normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. is something North Korea wants and needs; it’s a goal Kim Jong-un’s father and grandfather unsuccessfully pursued. Indeed, a normal relationship with the U.S. will give North Korea international legitimacy and access to international financial institutions and the foreign direct investments it needs.

Mr. Trump’s bold decision to meet with Kim Jong-un could finally move us closer to a just and peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue with North Korea.

Joseph R. DeTrani was the former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. The views are the author’s and not any government agency or department.

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