- - Monday, April 29, 2019

North Korea appears to be reverting back to its old tactics of hateful rhetoric and threats of military escalation, in hopes of intimidating its principal adversary, the United States. This would be a tragic mistake, especially given the unprecedented meetings of a North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, with a U.S. president, Donald Trump.

The reception Mr. Kim received from the international community during the past 14 months is historic, by any standard: Two summits with President Donald Trump, three summits with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in; four meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping and the first meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The first U.S.-North Korea Summit, in Singapore, resulted in a June 12, 2018, Joint Statement with a four-point road map for improved U.S.- North Korea bilateral relations, and a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. It also committed North Korea to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The process faltered at the Second U.S.-North Korea February 2019 Hanoi Summit, when it appeared the United States was prepared to work toward establishing a new relationship with North Korea, with the introduction of liaison offices in the respective capitals and a declaration committing the United States to an eventual peace treaty to end the Korean War. North Korea requested that the United Nation’s sanctions imposed after March 2016 be lifted, while noting its willingness to eventually dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear facility.

The Yongbyon nuclear facility is well known to the United States and the international community since the 1994 Agreed Framework and the September 2005 Six Party Talks Joint Statement. In short, Yongbyon is just one of a number of nuclear facilities in North Korea. Thus, this North Korean proposal fell short of a “commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” pursuant to the Singapore Joint Statement. Moreover, North Korea’s insistence that U.N. sanctions be lifted, not mentioned in the Singapore Joint Statement, while not focusing on improved bilateral relations and a peace treaty ending the Korean War, seemed strange.

In retrospect, North Korea’s behavior in Hanoi wasn’t strange or unusual. It appeared that Pyongyang expected movement from the United States on improved bilateral relations and movement toward an eventual peace treaty. Thus, they pocketed these expected deliverables and asked for something they knew was not available at this time — movement toward lifting U.N.-imposed sanctions. Thus, when the United States countered and asked that North Korea include its other nuclear facilities in any agreement, Kim Jong-un was unable to respond. The summit concluded on that unfortunate turn of events.

What has transpired during the few weeks following the Hanoi Summit is unfortunate: Kim Jong-un’s overseeing the test of a new tactical guided weapon; criticism of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton; reported activity at Sohae Satellite Launching Station; Kim Jong-un’s recent meeting with Vladimir Putin and reported statement that hostility could easily return; North Korean media reports encouraging South Korea to “unilaterally” improve interKorean relations.

We are familiar with this behavior from North Korea. Kim Jong-un should understand that the advice he’s getting to take this tack is wrong and potentially dangerous. If Mr. Kim wants security assurances and a better economic future for North Korea, then eventual normalization of relations with the United States is the goal he should continue to pursue. Normalizing relations with the United States will ensure security, the lifting of economic sanctions and access to international financial institutions for foreign direct loans.

Mr. Kim should understand that this is all available only with complete and verifiable dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons facilities. Those in North Korea who may think that North Korea eventually will succeed in being accepted by the United States as a de jure or de facto nuclear weapons state are wrong. This has been the central issue with North Korea for the past 25 years and, regardless of Pyongyang’s efforts, the U.S. view that North Korea with nuclear weapons will be a grave nuclear proliferation threat to the region and the world will not change.

North Korea, with its young leader, Kim Jong-un, who’s correctly focusing on economic development and national security, is on an unprecedented path toward normalization of relations with the United States. Mr. Kim needs to pursue this course and not be diverted by those in North Korea who think that the United States eventually will relent and accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.

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

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