Trump just admitted N Korea might keep its nuclear weapons

01-Feb-2019 Intellasia | VOX | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Trump lowers expectations on North Korea after his intelligence chiefs contradicted his rosy outlook.

For months, President Donald Trump and top administration officials have maintained that they struck an agreement with North Korea last June to end its nuclear programme.

But after US intelligence officials on Tuesday openly contradicted that, stating that North Korea likely won’t give up its arsenal, Trump seems to be walking that back just a bit.

“Decent chance of denuclearisation,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Time will tell what will happen with North Korea.”

 (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A “decent chance.” That, folks, is what people in the political world call “moving the goalposts.”

That’s a far cry from the comments Trump made in June just hours after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the first time in which the president stated that there was “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Now he’s admitting not only that the threat remains, but also that it’s not guaranteed to go away anytime soon.

There’s a good reason for Trump’s backtrack

The Trump administration is currently in the midst of months-long negotiations with North Korea in pursuit of a deal that would see the country give up its nuclear weapons and dismantle its nuclear and missile production facilities.

Those negotiations are entirely predicated on the belief that Kim is at least open to the idea of giving up his nuclear weapons. And indeed, Trump and top administration officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continue to insist that North Korea has agreed to give up its missiles and nukes.

Yet the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report released Tuesday by the heads of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and many other federal agencies clearly states that Pyongyang “is unlikely to give up all of its [nuclear] stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities,” and adds that “North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival.”

That fits with the publicly available evidence experts and researchers have found showing that North Korea has continued to improve its weapons programmes throughout the negotiations and is hiding military sites from the US. Those certainly don’t seem like the actions of a country planning to give its weapons up anytime soon.

So now Trump, after seeing progress with North Korea stall and US intelligence pushing back on his views, has downgraded his own optimism.

“From ‘veni, vidi, vici’ to ‘maybe,’” Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told me, referencing the famous Latin declaration attributed to Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Lee added that the president is now in “an elaborate trap from which he cannot easily break free” and that at this point, he “can only keep lowering the bar” in order to get out of it.

Trump keeps changing the metric of success with North Korea

Joshua Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, cited two specific instances where Trump previously moved the goalposts during the nuclear talks.

Remember: Trump said soon after his Kim meeting that there was no nuclear threat from North Korea anymore. But he has made other claims to demonstrate things are going well even if they’re not.

First, Trump cites North Korea’s lack of missile or nuclear tests as a sign of progress. He has a point there: Despite testing weapons at breakneck speed since 2013, Pyongyang hasn’t detonated a nuclear device since September 2017 or tested a missile since that November.

But not testing his arsenal is not the same as Kim giving up the weapons altogether. North Korea’s decision definitely helps lower tensions, but it doesn’t remove or end the threat not by a long shot.

Second, Pompeo who leads the North Korea negotiations for the Trump administration in September set a deadline to conclude nuclear talks by 2021. But in the months since, Trump has repeatedly insisted that “we’re in no rush” to strike a deal, once again moving the goalposts.

On the one hand, experts say, that’s a good thing: Sensitive negotiations take time, and dismantling North Korea’s programme is among the most intricate. But on the other hand, it gives Kim ample time to improve his arsenal.

Still, Trump’s Wednesday backtrack is his biggest yet. The semi-admission of failure or at least recognition that he overpromised in retrospect isn’t so surprising.

Asked after his June 2018 summit with Kim if the North Korean leader would dismantle his nuclear arsenal, Trump said, “I think he will do these things. I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong. I don’t know I’ll ever admit that. I’ll find some excuse.”

It’s been just over six months and he found an excuse. “A flash of self-awareness, perhaps,” Pollack told me.



Category: Korea

Print This Post