March 18, 2019 13:38
North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui told foreign reporters in Pyongyang on Friday, "We have no intention to yield to the U.S. demands [at the Hanoi summit] in any form, nor are we willing to engage in negotiations of this kind." Choe added ominously that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will soon announce his next plans.
What Choe was hinting at was that North Korea could scrap only its aging nuclear complex in Yongbyon, which was built 50 years ago. The plutonium-extraction and uranium-enrichment facilities in Yongbyon are no longer central to the North's nuclear weapons program, which makes them expendable bargaining chips. If U.S. President Donald Trump had accepted Kim's offer in Hanoi to scrap the Yongbyon facility in return for an easing of sanctions, he would effectively have acknowledged the North as a nuclear power.
If Kim really intended to give up his nuclear weapons, he would have sought to start a new dialogue with the U.S. about his secret uranium-enrichment facilities. But instead he is resorting to the old brinkmanship and blackmail. The North tried to dupe the international community and put up a big show pretending to scrap nuclear and missile sites. Kim even said that he wished to achieve complete denuclearization "during President Trump's term in office" and added that he has no reason to hang on to them and suffer. He also said he does not wish his children to inherit a nuclear legacy. But U.S. intelligence officials knew all along that Kim was lying, and even Trump knows it now. President Moon Jae-in, too, probably smelled it a long time ago but played dumb, and by doing so he was tricking the public here.
For the last 25 years, North Korea has repeatedly resorted to provocations every time its deceptive tactics failed. The North no longer needs to conduct more nuclear tests and already has enough nuclear weapons to equal a hydrogen bomb. Any more nuclear tests would merely waste valuable fissile materials. But it may well test-fire more long-range missiles to ratchet up pressure on the U.S. and seek to gain the upper hand in negotiations.
Nobody should fall for this tactic again. North Korea may be willing to play with fire, but it still fears getting burned because Kim knows he has too much to lose. What is needed is a watertight defense and tough sanctions. The effect of the sanctions, already in evidence here and there, will become much more obvious over time. This is a game that requires patience.
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