- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un praised a “personal letter” he received from President Trump Wednesday, according to state media in Pyongyang, which sent out a positive message on the prospect of an upcoming second summit between the two leaders.

“Upon receiving the good personal letter sent by President Trump, the Supreme Leader expressed great satisfaction,” North Korea’s official Koren Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, according to an account by the South Korea-based media outlet NK News.

The message came as Mr. Trump lashed out on Twitter Thursday morning at U.S. media coverage of his ongoing pursuit of a major denuclearization deal with Pyongyang, claiming news outlets wrongly portrayed his first summit with Mr. Kim last June in Singapore as a failure.

“The Fake News Media loves saying ‘so little happened at my first summit with Kim Jong Un,’ ” Mr. Trump tweeted at 5:21 a.m.

“Wrong! After 40 years of doing nothing with North Korea but being taken to the cleaners, & with a major war ready to start, in a short 15 months, relationships built, hostages & remains … back home where they belong, no more Rockets or M’s being fired over Japan or anywhere else,” the president continued.

“Most importantly,” he added, “no Nuclear Testing. 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!”

But longtime North Korea watchers, including some conservatives, accuse Mr. Trump of hyping the success of his diplomatic push with Mr. Kim to distract from the reality that the North Korean leader continues to cling to its nuclear weapons program despite U.S. and South Korean pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize.

Within hours of Mr. Trump’s early morning tweet, the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington circulated comments claiming the president’s view of the situation is “incorrect.”

“The U.S. and North Korea have made no progress on denuclearization since the Singapore Summit. It’s not so much that the process has been derailed, it simply never left the station,” Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Bruce Klinger said in the comments.

Trump made three mistakes in Singapore: accepting a poorly-crafted summit statement that was weaker than predecessor agreements, unilaterally canceling allied military exercises (at least 9 have been cancelled to date), and warmly praising Kim who is on the U.S. sanctions lists for human rights violations,” said Mr. Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for the Koreas.

“During a second summit, Trump must insist on tangible steps toward North Korean denuclearization, including a data declaration of the regime’s nuclear and missile programs,” he added. “Trump shouldn’t offer more concessions nor agree to reduce UN and US sanctions until Kim moves beyond the symbolic gestures it has taken so far.”

The comments underscore the delicateness with which the U.S. intelligence community views the denuclearization push with North Korea. Many in the community point out that since Mr. Kim agreed broadly at the Singapore summit to pursue denuclearization, Pyongyang has continued producing nuclear bomb fuel, as well as work on the country’s ballistic missile program.

A central concern of U.S. intelligence is that North Korea, which has built up its nuclear program over decades of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions, will attach a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

With that as a backdrop, the stakes around a second Trump-Kim summit are high.

While denuclearization talks are seen to have stalled since Singapore, recent weeks have brought momentum, with U.S. officials saying Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim are likely to meet again by the end of February.

NK News reported Thursday that KCNA outlined how Mr. Kim was recently briefed on rare meetings his top nuclear negotiator had in Washington last week with Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“[Kim] spoke highly of President Trump” and expressed “great interest in the second DPRK-U.S. summit,” the North Korean state media report said, adding that Mr. Kim has ordered officials to begin “making good technical preparations” for that meeting.

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