- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2018

Top White House officials on Sunday delivered an ambitious promise to North Korea: Give up your nuclear weapons program and the U.S. will open the door to economic prosperity rivaling that of any other nation in the region, laying out in clear terms the benefits the reclusive nation stands to reap as dictator Kim Jong-un prepares for a historic, high-stakes summit with President Trump next month.

The Trump administration made the promise to funnel American money and expertise into North Korea it seeks to cast its nuclear negotiations in a far different light than the deal President Barack Obama cut with Iran.

Specifically, White House officials said, they will insist on much more intrusive inspections inside North Korea and that the president could submit any deal struck with North Korea to the Senate for approval — a major difference from the pact with Tehran.

On the economic front, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to great lengths in a round of TV interviews Sunday to stress that North Korea stands on the precipice of wild economic growth the likes of which it has never seen.

“This will be Americans coming in, private-sector Americans — not the U.S. taxpayer — private-sector Americans coming in to help build out the energy grid … to work with them to develop infrastructure, all the things the North Korean people need,” Mr. Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.”

He said those investments are wholly contingent on the North Koreans granting “what it is the president has demanded” — a full, verifiable, permanent cessation of its nuclear weapons program.

In another interview with the CBS talk show “Face the Nation,” Mr. Pompeo — who took over as the nation’s top diplomat just last month and returned last week from his second meeting with the North Korean leader — said the country could quickly find itself on equal economic footing with neighboring South Korea, one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet.

“We can deliver that,” he said. “We can create conditions for real economic prosperity for the North Korean people that rival that of the South. … We will ensure that your people have the opportunity for the greatness that I know Chairman Kim wants them to have.”

Economically, North Korea has a steep hill to climb. The U.S. government ranks North Korea near the bottom of all countries in annual growth, gross domestic product per capita and a host of other measurables that offer a snapshot into nations’ economic health and job opportunities for their citizens.

Mr. Pompeo announced the promises as Mr. Trump prepares to meet with Mr. Kim in Singapore, a face-to-face sit-down that could mark a dramatic shift in North Korea’s relationship with the West.

North Korea late last week released three detained American prisoners in a move that the administration says was a show of good faith. Mr. Kim went further over the weekend and declared that his country would dismantle a key nuclear test site this month.

“Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!” Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday after the North Korean announcement.

U.S. lawmakers say the lifting of harsh economic sanctions on North Korea and the flow of American capital into the country would be a small price to pay for the full and total elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

“It would be the best money we ever spent,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told CBS on Sunday. “If you could really get North Korea to give up their program, I think there would be a lot of support in Congress to give North Korea a better life. Provide aid, relieve sanctions with one condition: that you give up your nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way.”

But analysts and former officials caution against moving too hastily.

While there have certainly been encouraging signs from Mr. Kim in recent weeks, fully destroying North Korea’s nuclear program will be a complex process that is likely to take many years, and it’s unclear how much economic assistance the Trump administration is willing to provide until that process is totally complete.

“I think it’s very complicated. They have a nuclear enterprise that is dramatically larger than Iran‘s,” former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told CBS on Sunday. “Getting to genuine denuclearization will be a very complicated process.”

If Mr. Trump succeeds in negotiating a verifiable, long-term deal with Mr. Kim, White House officials say, then they will depart from the path forged by the Obama administration on its nuclear deal with Iran, from which Mr. Trump has been able to largely withdraw on his own volition.

On North Korea, officials say, they are prepared to submit a future deal to the Senate for approval — a step that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the next president to change course.

“It’s entirely possible we’d proceed that way,” White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton told CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We’re still thinking about different alternatives. I wouldn’t want to foreclose the president’s options.

“But it’s been one of the criticisms of the Iran nuclear deal, to be sure, that a deal of that level of consequence was not given to the Senate, as many people think the Constitution provided,” he said.

The stakes of the summit, former military leaders say, are high. If the unprecedented diplomatic outreach between the two sides fails to yield denuclearization, there is fear that military conflict will be one of the few viable outcomes left.

“I think what I’m saying is if the talks fail that the likelihood of options are dramatically reduced to potential conflict,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told “Fox News Sunday.”

“I do worry about the downside of conflict breaking out where tens and hundreds of thousands of people, particularly in South Korea, could die very quickly and Kim has a huge arsenal to include nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. The outbreak there could be huge,” he said.

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