How Significant Is N.Korea's Surprise Nuclear Freeze?

  • By Lim Min-hyuk, Kim Jin-myung

    April 23, 2018 11:01

    North Korea on Friday announced it is halting all nuclear and missile tests and shutting down its nuclear test site, but that does not guarantee the regime will eventually give up its nuclear program altogether.

    U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the announcement, calling it "very good news for North Korea and the World -- big progress!" He added, "Look forward to our summit."

    It is surprising for North Korea to make the announcement before planned summits with South Korea and the U.S. have even got underway.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made the announcement during a Workers Party Central Committee meeting and said the North will pursue economic growth and peace instead.

    According to the official Rodong Sinmun daily, Kim said his country no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests or test intercontinental ballistic missiles because it has fulfilled its goal of developing the weapons.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) and other senior officials raise their hands during a Workers Party Central Committee meeting in Pyongyang on Friday, in this photo released by the state-run Rodong Sinmun daily on Saturday.

    The North said the halt is "an important process for global nuclear disarmament" -- the term used internationally for the process of decreasing the sizes of their nuclear weapons stockpiles.

    That also assumes that the North is somehow already a nuclear power and able to negotiate with its counterparts on an equal footing.

    It added the North will "join international efforts to halt nuclear tests," which also suggests that it wants to be recognized as a nuclear power by alluding to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was created to curb competition among nuclear-armed states. 

    Still, it signals a change from the North's previous negotiating tactics, when it took small incremental steps in exchange for concessions including oil and food aid and then reversed them as soon as it got what it wanted.

    But it is still too early to celebrate since North Korea can always reverse itself if it is dissatisfied with the speed of easing sanctions.

    Kim's true intentions will only become clear after the two summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump.

    Some pundits, staring intently into these cloudy crystal balls, fear that Kim may offer to scrap only long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland and that Trump could accept the proposal as he seeks to win votes for the Republican Party in upcoming mid-term elections.

    One former high-ranking diplomat said, "We have now entered uncharted waters, so it is especially important for South Korea and the U.S. to maintain close cooperation and communication."

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