U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he will meet with DPRK Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong Un at the end of February. It is a welcome move that North Korea is showing a commitment to resolve the nuclear and missile issues via dialogue. But this will become the second time for the U.S. and North Korean leaders to meet. They must achieve a “complete denuclearization” in a tangible fashion, not through word alone.
The “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which Kim Jong Un pledged at the first U.S.-DPRK summit held in June 2018, is not making progress at all. Rather, it is reported that North Korea continues to carry out nuclear-related activities at home even after the summit. It is doubtful that the North is serious about giving up its nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s nuclear abolition starts with its declaration of all nuclear weapons and facilities. This involves layers of processes, such as steps for the North to freeze nuclear projects, accept inspections and examinations, dismantle nuclear weapons, and carry them out of the country. These processes must be carried out step by step to some extent, but the second U.S.-DPRK summit will not become successful if a clear path toward denuclearization cannot be laid out.
The U.S. and DPRK must avoid following in the footsteps of the past agreements that got derailed as they failed to set forth clear steps toward denuclearization. The gap may still linger between them, which explains why the U.S. government opted not to soon announce the date and venue of its second summit with the DPRK. It should not hesitate to put off or cancel the summit if its working-level talks with the DPRK, which will precede the summit, did not work out.
It makes sense that the White House press secretary stressed that the U.S. “will continue the pressure campaign and sanctions against the DPRK until the fully verifiable denuclearization is achieved.” Other countries, including China and Russia, need to tighten up their grip again.
Kim Jong Un will probably propose easing sanctions and declaring an end to the Korean War as well as concluding a peace treaty to secure his regime. A worrisome factor is how President Trump will respond. It cannot be denied that he may make a risky bet in foreign policy to defuse his policy stalemate at home.
The Japanese government must again warn President Trump not to make an easy deal. The close partnership between Japan and the U.S. is indispensable as the DPRK issue is closely linked to Japan’s national security and the abduction of Japanese nationals. Japan and the U.S. are now in a critical situation, with the bilateral alliance facing a moment of truth.