N.Korea Must Be Given a Deadline for Denuclearization

      September 28, 2018 13:39

      U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday alarmed observers of his attempts to persuade North Korea to denuclearize by saying, "If it takes two years, three years or five months -- doesn't matter. I think we're really going to do something that's going to be very important, but we're not playing the time game."

      The U.S. held its first-ever summit with North Korea in June without preparing properly and ended up failing to get the North to commit to a denuclearization deadline. Trump may be hoping that by not setting a deadline again, he at least avoids repeating that mistake. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said the Trump administration will not rush into anything to make sure the U.S. gets "the conditions right" for a second summit with North Korea. "We're not going to buy a pig in a poke. We're going to get this right. We're going to deliver on this commitment that [Kim] has made to the world," he added.

      Perhaps Trump has given up altogether. Before the summit in Singapore, Trump boasted that North Korea's denuclearization would be achieved very soon, but pushed that back later to within his term in office, which ends in January 2021. Now, he says there may be no deadline at all. That would only give North Korea the green light to become a nuclear power.

      The world was stunned to see Pakistan conduct six nuclear tests over a two-day period in May 1998. Strong sanctions ensued, but Pakistan merely bided its time and emerged as a bona fide nuclear power. North Korea announced the completion of its nuclear weapons program last year by conducting its sixth nuclear test in November and test-launching a ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea seems determined to copy the Pakistani model, and giving up on a denuclearization deadline would only give it more time to achieve its goal.

      Of course, fixating on a deadline could give the North an advantage in terms of winning concessions, but it cannot simply be given all the time in the world. The road to denuclearization is complicated and requires close cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea. What is important now is to work toward deals with a clear deadline for denuclearization, and with sufficient leverage to make sure that the North abides by it.

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