Time will soon tell whether Kim Jong Un wants to denuclearize

Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore ahead of the June 12 summit between the United States and North Korea. Image: Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

The third clause of the June 12 US-DPRK Summit agreement states the following:

“Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The document declares that the two sides will “reaffirm” the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, but that this must follow the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is stated clearly in the second clause of the Panmunjom Declaration: “South and North Korea will make joint efforts to alleviate the acute military tension and practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula.” This refers to the halting of US-ROK military exercises.

As President Trump announced the US-DPRK agreement to the world, he also called for the halting of US-ROK joint military exercises. The basis for this was included in the Panmunjom Declaration. Clause 2, Paragraph 1 of the Declaration states that: “South and North Korea agree to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.”

It appears Kim Jong Un may be strategically exploiting the rift in the US-ROK relationship through the inter-Korean and US-DPRK summits. In May, one month before Kim Jong Un met with Trump, a short story of reverence to Kim Jong Un entitled “The Awaiting Bosom” published in the North Korean Writer’s Alliance Central Committee’s magazine “Chosun Literature” strongly criticized the joint US-ROK military exercises. The short story included the following:

“The military exercises by the enemy have now moved from being just rare instances in terms of their characteristics, size and methods; they have become trial runs for an actual war. The reports compiled by the General Staff show that the enemies’ movements are dangerous. The enemies are frantically trying to suppress the Republic (DPRK) and are scheming to conduct new military exercises aimed at destroying the Revolution’s central command.”

The short story continued along these lines and strongly condemned the joint US-ROK military exercises. The halting of US-ROK military exercises was likely top of the agenda when Kim Jong Un met with Trump.

Ultimately, Kim persuaded Trump of his views and Trump even portrayed Kim as a victor in his steadfast support of the Panmunjom Declaration. Trump proclaimed that Kim was loved by all his people and claims that he and Kim work well together. Trump has been encouraged greatly by the disappearance of anti-American slogans in North Korea and has given the North Korean despot a “good grade” for his alleged efforts to denuclearize, emphasizing the mutual trust he shares with Kim and deciding to temporarily halt the joint US-ROK military exercises.

After the US-DPRK summit, however, there have been no follow-up meetings between the two sides. Democratic and Republican members of the US Senate have introduced a bill to set “stringent” oversight over the progress of US negotiations with North Korea and the situation surrounding denuclearization, requiring a report from the Administration every 30 days. The proposed bill stipulates that sanctions against North Korea must continue until significant and verifiable progress has been made toward denuclearization. It also proposes that the US cannot begin negotiations on the withdrawal of US troops in South Korea.

The US Senate has essentially stood up to Trump, who described Kim Jong Un as “someone who really loves his country.” North Korea’s state media may indeed angrily claim that the actions of the US Senate have defamed the North Korean leader. This would inevitably lead again to the spreading of anti-American slogans across the pages of the regime’s newspapers.

If that happens, Trump would have to again take a hard line against Kim and push for clear affirmation of Kim’s intent to denuclearize the Peninsula along with real evidence to support this. Trump cannot continue to focus simply on the fourth paragraph of the US-DPRK Summit’s agreement that refers to the repatriation of the remains of fallen US POWs.

Time will soon reveal the sincerity behind Kim Jong Un’s overtures to denuclearize. In the meantime, we are left with a halting of US-ROK military exercises and the potential for American troop withdrawal from South Korea on the horizon.