When U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore in mid-June, he had a relatively easy task ahead of him. The aim was to conduct a meeting without major incident and sign a paper containing North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize. Trump quickly promised to suspend America’s biannual maneuvers with South Korea, saying they were too expensive and were seen as a provocation by North Korea. Few Western leaders have ever shown that much understanding for North Korea’s wishes.
Trump returned from Singapore euphoric, and tweeted that North Korea no longer represented a nuclear threat. On the nuclear disarmament of North Korea, he said, “We’re starting that process very quickly — very, very quickly — absolutely.” Apparently, this was a slight exaggeration.
This is why U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now facing a much more difficult task. After landing in North Korea he is expected for talks on Saturday and Sunday. His mission is to add substance to the rather meager joint statement that came out of the summit in Singapore. He wants to return to the U.S. with a solid agreement on a roadmap for North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. In addition, he wants to discuss the implementation of Kim’s promise to return the remains of thousands of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War to the U.S.
Pompeo’s visit is the first big test of how serious Kim’s desire for peace after his summit with Trump really is. So far at least, there is very little evidence of it.
Writers at the renowned Internet magazine 38 North, which predominantly analyzes the situation in North Korea, have been evaluating commercial satellite images. According to analysts at 38 North, the images revealed that North Korea is continuing to expand its Yongbyon nuclear research facility at a rapid pace. In Washington, representatives of U.S. intelligence agencies warned shortly afterward that North Korea had increased uranium enrichment at various previously secret sites.
Even though prior to the Singapore summit North Korea had destroyed a nuclear test facility in Punggye-ri as a sign of good faith, the North Korean leadership declared that it no longer needed this plant. The nuclear tests, after all, had been successfully completed.
’They Are Trying To Deceive Us’
For U.S. intelligence agencies, it is relatively obvious what North Korea is trying to do: “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.,” NBC said, quoting one of the officials. The president of the renowned foreign policy think tank Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, is equally skeptical: “Since Singapore we have seen a huge gap open up between the claims made by POTUS (that the nuclear problem is essentially solved) and the reality that it is anything but,” Haass said.
But Trump won’t let this dampen his mood. Last Sunday in a televised interview with Fox News, he admitted that it was possible that the deal with North Korea may not work out. About Kim’s intentions to start a peace process, Trump observed after shaking Kim’s hand, “I really believe he means it.”
Nevertheless, North Korea would have to be prepared to disclose its nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency, for example. Otherwise, the disarmament process would not be verifiable. Trump believes Kim will go along with it because “we have a good chemistry together.”
Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is surprisingly optimistic as well. Within a year, a large part of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction could be destroyed, he told CBS last Sunday.
However, it is still unthinkable that foreign inspectors are going to visit top secret nuclear facilities, set up surveillance cameras and seal rooms and equipment in North Korea. Government officials in Washington hope that Kim will be tempted by the prospect of future meetings with Trump. Trump himself agreed to Kim’s visit to the White House provided North Korea keeps its promises. A meeting between Kim and Trump on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September could be a step in this direction, according to online magazine Axios.
But now everyone is waiting to see if Pompeo is going to achieve anything substantial in the North Korean capital. If his achievements are similar to the paper Trump and Kim signed mid-June, there is still a long way to go.