News Analysis: Koreans Set the Table for a Deal That Trump Will Try to Close


But disarmament experts who watched the Korean leaders meet in the DMZ agreed that Mr. Kim had been driving the events.

Mr. Kim has learned the art of surprise as surely as his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder and the younger Mr. Kim’s role model, did. The elder Mr. Kim caught the world unawares by invading the South in June 1950.

[The summit meeting was a master class in stagecraft, with the images as important as the words. Read our analysis here.]

The Friday encounter did everything it was supposed to do to set up the next summit meeting, between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump. That is the moment, South Koreans say, for any nuclear deal to be struck, something that can only happen when an American president is in the room.

The question is whether Mr. Kim is really ready to make that deal, or whether he is betting, as most experts think he is, that he can get help to normalize the North’s economy while keeping at least parts of a fearsome arsenal that he believes has kept the Kim family in power.

The agreement published on Friday afternoon, as the two Korean leaders headed into a dinner that was rich in symbolism about the common traditions of the North and South, says little on the nuclear topic.

Photo

Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon during a banquet on Friday in the truce village of Panmunjom.

Credit
Pool photo

It sets a deadline of completing some kind of peace arrangement — not necessarily a treaty — by the end of this year. But it sets no schedule for denuclearization. That is a critical point, because until now the Trump administration’s position has been that the North must surrender all its weapons first, and that any talk of treaties or trade, or sanctions relief, would come only when its weapons, its uranium and plutonium and its missiles are securely out of the country.

President Moon’s advisers insisted that the vagueness of the agreement published on Friday was a virtue, not a defect, and that it would be up to others to work out the details. But they also insist that “Chairman Kim,” as they called the young leader, is driven by different imperatives than his father and grandfather were. “They want a Trump Tower and a McDonald’s,” Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to the South Korean president, insisted in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN on Friday.

Perhaps they do — the North’s most famous hotel, in Pyongyang, the capital, leans so dangerously that it was never opened, and North Korea is not known for its fast-food chains. But ask the people who have seen past peace initiatives whether they think this one will work out any differently, and they have serious doubts that Mr. Kim will give up his nuclear program for any price.

Among the skeptics is Mr. Trump’s new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who made a secret visit to Pyongyang over Easter weekend to try to gauge Mr. Kim’s sincerity. Last summer, it was Mr. Pompeo, then still the C.I.A. director, who argued that the only way to deal with North Korea was to separate Mr. Kim from his weapons, a comment some interpreted as advocating regime change.

On Friday at NATO, on his first full day as secretary of state, Mr. Pompeo suggested for the first time that the North Korean leader was ready to deal. “I did get a sense that he was serious,” he told reporters. “The economic pressure that has been put in place by this global effort that President Trump has led has led him to believe that it’s in his best interest to come to the table and talk about denuclearization.”

Yet talking is different from denuclearizing. And talking about denuclearizing is hardly new. The North promised the same in a 1992 agreement, and many in Seoul, the South’s capital, wondered then if the nightmare of living under the constant threat of artillery barrage was about to end. In fact, the agreement reached on Friday picks up language from the 1992 accord, and has similar provisions about reuniting families separated during the Korean War and nonaggression agreements. Little of it happened.

There were two agreements with the George W. Bush administration, each described at the time as breakthroughs. Since then the North has amassed 20 to 60 nuclear weapons, up from zero when those commitments were made.

No one knows those numbers better than Mr. Pompeo, who spent a lot of time with the CI.A.’s Korea Mission unit, assessing the scope and imminence of its nuclear capabilities. “There’s a lot of history here, where promises have been made, hopes have been raised and then dashed,” the new secretary of state told reporters.

Mr. Trump’s solution to not getting “played,” the phrase he so often uses about his predecessors and North Korea, is to keep what he calls a “maximum pressure campaign” on the North until denuclearization happens. The South Koreans say they agree. But the documents issued Friday hint at benefits that begin to flow to the North as they move toward a peace agreement, and a reduction of tensions.

China, which is largely interested in maintaining the status quo, could also loosen the restrictions on oil and goods, as long as negotiations play out.

All this suggests that Mr. Trump’s challenge when he meets Mr. Kim, probably in early June, is growing. He must establish the process for the actual dismantlement of weapons, the removal of stockpiled uranium and plutonium bomb fuel from the country and a verification program that will be one of the most complex in history, given the vastness of North Korea’s mountains.

In short, Mr. Trump must do better than Mr. Obama did in the Iran deal, an agreement Mr. Trump believes is so flawed it should be abandoned.

What no one knows yet is the kind of concessions Mr. Kim is hoping to demand in return. Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister who negotiated with the North for much of his career, says he believes he knows where this is headed.

“If Kim Jong-un indeed came up with the idea of the so-called peace momentum getting started, it was indeed a jackpot of an idea,” Mr. Han said this week. Mr. Kim’s goals, Mr. Han said, will be to “weaken international sanctions,” draw serious investment into the North and make the country’s nuclear status “a fait accompli.”

Mr. Trump, in contrast, says he will solve the North Korea problem, once and for all. After Friday’s meeting, he will now face the task of explaining how.

Photo

The North Korean flag displayed in lights atop the unopened Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, the North’s capital.

Credit
Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Continue reading the main story

The Interpreter: How Trump’s Mixed Signals Complicate America’s Role in the World


And by threatening to blow up any deal that does not meet his sometimes inconsistent demands, he may win some concessions at the expense of undermining America’s traditional role as a mediator and convener of negotiations, which Washington has relied on to promote its interests in international forums.

New Narrative About America?

Mr. Trump’s stances on Iran and North Korea appear, at first, difficult to reconcile.

North Korea has barreled ahead with its weapons programs, testing nuclear devices as well as long-range missiles that appear capable of striking major American cities. It has achieved what no country has since China developed its own program a half-century ago: a nuclear deterrent against the United States.

To stall or reverse those gains, Mr. Trump has issued threats and imposed sanctions on North Korea, but for the most part his responses have not been that different from those of previous administrations. His major break with diplomatic orthodoxy was to agree to a direct meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. The North has long sought such a meeting as a way to portray itself as a peer of the great powers.

Among Korea experts, Mr. Trump’s approach has won the greatest support from left-leaning doves.

Iran, meanwhile, has kept its nuclear program frozen and continues to accept international inspections, according to the international watchdogs and American intelligence officials who have repeatedly said that the country is complying with its obligations under the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

But Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened Iran and pledged to withdraw from the agreement or impose sanctions that would abrogate American commitments. He has won cheers from hawks on Iran who oppose the deal.

How to square these inconsistencies? Within the United States, the most common explanations draw on Mr. Trump’s personality or on domestic politics. Perhaps he opposes the Iran deal because he was not the one to close it, for instance, but he can support a North Korea deal that would bear his signature.

But foreign states do not have the luxury of shrugging off the American president’s thinking as an inscrutable mystery. They must stitch together a narrative with which to predict future behavior.

Photo

Officials from Iran and six major world powers as they reached a nuclear deal in 2015.

Credit
Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The clearest narrative may be that the Americans cannot necessarily be trusted to uphold their commitments — Mr. Trump has broken or withdrawn from several other international agreements — but they can be, as Mr. Kim showed, coerced and deterred.

The nuclear lessons may be starker.

Dismantle or freeze your program on assurances from the United States, and those assurances may be broken. Accelerate your program in open defiance of international agreements, and the American president will offer to meet with you.

The Costs of Unpredictability

Mr. Trump said on the campaign trail that his businesses had succeeded in part because, in negotiations, he had relied on bluffing, threats to walk out and ruthless, zero-sum transactionalism.

He had sometimes refused to fully pay contractors, including those working for his campaign. He sued Deutsche Bank in 2008 to escape $40 million in personal loan guarantees. Confronted with a copy of a tax return suggesting that he had not paid federal income tax in some years, Mr. Trump retorted, “That makes me smart.”

He has he said would apply his approach in business to foreign relations, pledging to extract maximum concessions even from allies. Unpredictability and threats would keep other leaders guessing, forcing them to deliver concessions, he said.

Mr. Trump would not have to look long for countries that have deployed this strategy: Iran and North Korea have pursued more extreme versions for years.

Still, this approach comes with costs. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week of the nuclear agreement with Iran that “it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat.”

The deal, though signed by several world powers, including China and Russia, hands considerable discretion to Washington over when and how to punish any Iranian cheating. In this way, it highlights the difference between how the world treats countries it considers unreliable, like Iran, versus those seen as steady and transparent.

Should talks with North Korea lead to a written agreement, no one expects its text to treat the United States with the distrust that the 2015 agreement treated Iran.

But it is difficult to imagine America’s allies once again investing Washington with the authority they handed it over Iran.

Mr. Trump is asking Washington’s Asian allies to follow his lead on North Korea just as he is defying European allies who are pushing him to stay in the Iran deal. China, which is also a party to the Iran deal, is likely to play a major role in shaping any agreement with North Korea.

Trump administration statements in support of the president’s stance on the Iran deal risk further undermining American efforts with North Korea.

Brian Hook, the State Department policy planning director, told NPR this week that the 2015 agreement signed by Iran and the world powers is “a political commitment by an administration that’s no longer in office.”

Photo

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on Friday. The two leaders agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but President Trump plans to play a role, too.

Credit
Korea Summit Press

The notion that American commitments made by one administration do not constrain those that follow it implies that any deal Mr. Trump signs with North Korea is good for only three years if he serves one term, seven years if he wins re-election.

Physical constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, by contrast, last for a minimum of 15 years, which critics like Mr. Trump had deemed woefully insufficient.

Leader or Spoiler?

There is a reason that the United States has long sought the role of mediator or overseer whenever there is an international crisis, even under a unilateral-minded president like George W. Bush, who convened six-nation talks over North Korea’s nuclear arms program.

The idea was that the United States would forge a consensus among allies and great powers, then use that consensus as the starting point of talks with whatever rogue state was troubling it.

This put the United States at the center of the process, ensuring that it would always have a say. If France or Russia wanted some concession or course correction, it had to go through the Americans to get it.

This state of affairs has required Washington to make frequent compromises to retain the support of other powers for a system anchored to Washington. The United States had to be the rational referee in negotiations, letting other countries issue demands or threaten to walk out.

Increasingly, the United States is the one issuing demands and threatening to blow up negotiations if they do not satisfy Mr. Trump’s terms.

This approach does win concessions. European leaders are offering new constraints on Iran.

But it also gives allies and adversaries incentives to go around the Americans, rather than put them at the center of everything.

Some analysts expect that if Mr. Trump walks away from the Iran deal, the Europeans and Iranians will find some accommodation that excludes him. Washington would lose its leverage over how Iran is held to account.

This week’s inter-Korean summit meeting also hints at declining American influence over negotiations.

The Trump administration has demanded that North Korea “denuclearize” in the sense that the country would immediately and unilaterally surrender its nuclear program. But this week the two Koreas pledged eventual denuclearization of the entire peninsula. Both North and South Korea seem to have ignored Mr. Trump’s demands.

In the meantime, Mr. Trump shows signs of enjoying his power as international spoiler.

Hours before the inter-Korean agreement was released, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that he might withdraw American support from any country that “were to lobby against” his bid for the 2026 soccer World Cup tournament.

“Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us,” he asked.

Continue reading the main story

North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms


[What does Kim Jong-un want from his meeting with President Trump? Read our analysis here.]

Mr. Trump and his aides are expected to seek a quick timetable for the North to eliminate its nuclear weapons, mindful that it has failed to deliver on its promises in the past, including a pledge not to develop such weapons. And Friday’s agreement between Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim was notably short on specifics like timing.

“South and North Korea agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” their statement said.

Mr. Trump, early Friday in Washington, cautiously praised the Korean leaders’ meeting on Twitter: “Good things are happening, but only time will tell!”

Video

Kim Jong-un Crosses Inter-Korean Border

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, walked across the inter-Korean border to meet the South’s president, Moon Jae-in. No North Korean leader had made the journey in the two countries’ 70-year history of bitter rivalry.


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date April 26, 2018.


Photo by Pool photo.

Watch in Times Video »

Fifteen minutes later, he declared in an all-caps tweet, “KOREAN WAR TO END!” and said that all Americans should be “very proud” of what was taking place on the Korean Peninsula.

In another tweet, he thanked President Xi Jinping of China for his “great help” in the process.

China’s state news media played the summit meeting prominently, even though China had been left on the sidelines with little influence over Friday’s proceedings.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry praised the courage of the two leaders, and said it welcomed “the new journey” for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Xi, who hosted Mr. Kim in Beijing last month, was preoccupied with his own summit meeting in China with India’s leader, Narendra Modi.

The tone of the Moon-Kim session — broadcast live nationally on South Korean television — was convivial and at times jocular, with Mr. Kim showing surprising honesty about the differences in conditions between the two nations.

Yoon Young-chan, Mr. Moon’s spokesman, said Mr. Kim acknowledged the poor road conditions in his country, a startling admission for a member of his ruling family, which is considered godlike and faultless among North Koreans. Mr. Kim also revealed that the North Koreans who visited the South during the Winter Olympics in February all admired the bullet train there.

Video

It’s Been 65 Years. Why Hasn’t the Korean War Ended?

After six decades, the Korean War is technically still not over. Here’s what happened – and why it still matters.


By DAVID BOTTI on Publish Date April 24, 2018.


Photo by Fox Photos – Getty Images.

Watch in Times Video »

After Mr. Moon spoke of wanting to visit North Korea, Mr. Kim said, “It will be very embarrassing,” alluding to roads there.

Mr. Kim also repeated a lighthearted line he had used in his meeting with South Korean envoys in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, last month, apologizing to Mr. Moon for disturbing his sleep with missile tests and forcing him to attend meetings of his National Security Council.

“I heard you had your early-morning sleep disturbed many times because you had to attend the N.S.C. meetings because of us,” Mr. Kim said. “Getting up early in the morning must have become a habit for you. I will make sure that your morning sleep won’t be disturbed.”

Mr. Moon joked back: “Now I can sleep in peace.”

[The Korean leaders’ meeting was a carefully choreographed dance, with a surprise step. Read more here.]

The move to end the Korean War formally would face obstacles, including China’s likely demand for the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea as part of a peace treaty. An armistice brought about a cease-fire to the Korean War in 1953, but the conflict never ended because the parties could not agree to a formal peace treaty.

Photo

People watched live footage of the summit meeting at a restaurant in Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

Credit
Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The two leaders agreed on Friday that Mr. Moon would visit Pyongyang in the fall. Their statement also said that within a year, they would push for a trilateral conference with the United States, or a four-party forum that also included China, with the aim of “declaring an end to the Korean War” and intentions to “replace the armistice with a peace treaty.”

Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon also vowed to improve inter-Korean relations by opening a liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and arranging a reunion later this year of families separated by the war.

Mr. Moon also offered some capitalistic carrots during the talks, reminding Mr. Kim that South Korea had in years past promised huge investments to help improve the North’s road and train systems. Those agreements eventually collapsed as the North persisted in developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Moon, a progressive leader who says he likes to see South Korea “in the driver’s seat” in pushing the peace effort forward, is trying to broker a successful summit meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump, which is expected in late May or early June.

Mr. Kim rattled the region last year by testing long-range missiles and trading threats of nuclear war with Mr. Trump. But then Mr. Kim shifted gears, saying he was willing to give up his nuclear weapons for the right incentives and proposing the meeting with Mr. Trump.

Photo

Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon at the line that divides the two Koreas.

Credit
Pool photo

Last weekend, Mr. Kim announced an end to all nuclear and long-range-missile tests, saying that his country had mastered how to mount nuclear warheads on missiles and no longer needed to conduct tests. Mr. Kim said North Korea had adopted a “new strategic line” focusing on economic development.

Skeptics say Mr. Kim is trying to improve ties with South Korea to steer it from the United States and escape sanctions that are increasingly hurting the North’s economy. Indeed, many conservatives in the South fear that the North’s goal remains to be accepted as a nuclear power in return for freezing its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs.

Some analysts said that Friday’s inter-Korean statement, including Mr. Kim’s formal commitment to denuclearization, appears to lay the foundation for a summit meeting between him and Mr. Trump. But they urged caution.

The declaration “is breathtaking in its scope and ambition,” David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said by email. “But how to achieve all the goals laid out in the document, given the current situation?”

He said that unless “a firm foundation” for North Korea’s verifiable nuclear disarmament were laid out, most of the other commitments in the declaration were “merely wishes.”

Photo

People prayed Friday in Seoul for the success of the inter-Korean talks.

Credit
Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Analysts have warned that once negotiations begin with the United States, North Korea could push them into a stalemate by trying to drag Washington into nuclear arms reduction talks.

To prevent that, South Korea and the United States are trying to persuade North Korea to agree to a specific timeline for complete denuclearization: as soon as possible and no later than the end of Mr. Trump’s current term, in early 2021, according to South Korean officials and analysts.

During their morning talks, Mr. Kim pushed for more summit meetings with Mr. Moon, saying he would like to visit the presidential Blue House in Seoul. He said North Korea would cooperate to make a “better world.”

But he also voiced caution, suggesting South Korea and the United States deserved blame for scuttling previous deals.

“As the expectations are high, so is the skepticism,” he said. “In the past, we had reached big agreements, but they were not implemented for more than 10 years. There are people who are skeptical that the results of today’s meeting will be properly implemented.”

Continue reading the main story

Korea Talks Begin as Kim Jong-un Enters South’s Side of DMZ


Then, Mr. Kim stepped across the border.

After the two leaders posed for photos, they crossed briefly into the North’s territory at Mr. Kim’s suggestion, another highly symbolic moment. They then stepped backed into South Korean territory, holding hands, and walked down a red carpet to inspect a South Korean military honor guard and enter the Peace House.

“All the eyes and ears of the world are on Panmunjom today,” Mr. Moon said.

While Mr. Moon’s meeting with Mr. Kim on Friday — their first face-to-face talk — is rich with symbolism, Mr. Kim is not expected to capitulate on Mr. Trump’s key demand: total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Moon’s other challenge, with Mr. Trump, turns on how best to deal with North Korea and its leader — who is expected to meet with Mr. Trump in the next few months.

The South Korean president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees. South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

Photo

Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon at the welcoming ceremony.

Credit
Pool photo by Korea Summit Press

Mr. Trump’s national security team, by contrast, has insisted that North Korea must scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions that isolate the nation can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Mr. Moon sees himself less as a negotiator with Mr. Kim and more as a mediator shuttling between two men who believe that keeping others guessing gives them an edge: a volatile American president with no experience in nuclear negotiations, and a hotheaded young North Korean leader with no experience on a global stage.

“What we can do is to try to help the North and the United States reach an agreement, helping them narrow their differences and seeking and presenting practical ideas both sides can accept,” Mr. Moon said recently, adding that he may have only one shot to get it right. “This is an opportunity that will not come again.”

The challenge is stark. No nation that has openly tested a nuclear device has ever surrendered its arsenal, and North Korea has conducted six underground explosions, each more powerful than the last, and has test-fired missiles that can reach the mainland United States.

But Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have both already defied conventional wisdom about what is possible. If they meet in June — most likely in Singapore, according to American and South Korean officials — it would be the first direct encounter between the leaders of the two nations, as well as a chance to test the argument that making progress with North Korea in the nuclear standoff requires starting at the top.

The meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon is the third summit meeting between leaders of the two countries, but the first in which denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula tops the agenda.

“I hope we can have open-minded talks on issues of concern and produce good results, not the kind of results we saw in the past that were not implemented and made us start from scratch again,” Mr. Kim said as the talks began on Friday. For his part, Mr. Moon said he hoped that the two leaders could engage in “broad-minded” discussions and produce “a big gift” for those yearning for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Moon hopes to emerge from Friday’s summit meeting with a formal but vague denuclearization commitment from Mr. Kim and perhaps a path to negotiating a peace treaty or a plan to reduce military tensions. Some have suggested a pullback of troops from the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is possible.

But Mr. Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement. “Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone,” he said last month. “It has to have American endorsement.”

One measure of success will be whether Mr. Moon can persuade Mr. Kim to set a timetable for denuclearization in his talks with Mr. Trump.

Photo

Mr. Kim signing a guest book in Panmunjom.

Credit
Reuters

“Confirming a willingness to denuclearize is not enough. What matters is an agreement on by when the North will denuclearize,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea specialist at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean think tank.

Some who have tried and failed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program worry that Mr. Trump, having threatened the North with nuclear annihilation, has now swung too far to the other side and may be too eager to make a deal. Having derided Mr. Kim previously as “Little Rocket Man,” Mr. Trump described the North Korean leader as “very honorable” this week.

“I find it impossible to believe that Kim is prepared to give up what his father and his grandfather bequeathed to him,” said Gary Samore, a veteran of negotiations with North Korea as the top arms control aide in the Clinton and Obama administrations, speaking at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

But he added that Mr. Kim “may now calculate he has enough of a nuclear arsenal” — and so can afford to put more on the table than in the past.

One possibility that causes consternation in the region is that Mr. Trump will settle for dismantling North Korea’s small fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles, eliminating its ability to strike the United States — but leaving South Korea and Japan vulnerable. “It would be the ‘America First’ way,” Mr. Samore said, referring to Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan.

If skepticism is rampant in Washington, the Moon administration is somewhat more optimistic. To South Korean policymakers, Mr. Kim’s recent decisions suggest that he is willing to trade his nuclear arsenal for economic growth, which the young leader may see as necessary to preserving his rule for decades. They also argue that Mr. Trump’s threats of military action have proved more effective at changing Mr. Kim’s calculations than anticipated.

South Korean officials say they have spent far more time and energy coordinating with the Trump administration before the Friday summit meeting than with the North Koreans, an effort complicated by the White House shake-up that included the departure of Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and the firing of Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state.

The focus on Washington also reflects concern about General McMaster’s successor, John R. Bolton, who joined the administration after arguing for military strikes to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, ridiculing South Korean leaders as “putty in North Korea’s hands,” and calling North Koreans “the biggest con men in the world.”

Mr. Moon’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, described Mr. Bolton as an “honest broker” after their first meeting this month, and he traveled again to Washington this week for further discussions with Mr. Bolton.

One mystery is what, if any, progress was made in a secret meeting in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, this month between Mr. Kim and Mike Pompeo, the former C.I.A. director who was confirmed Thursday as secretary of state. Mr. Trump said Thursday that Mr. Pompeo was not scheduled to see Mr. Kim but had “a great meeting” that lasted more than an hour.

Photo

Mr. Moon, center left, and Mr. Kim, center right, meeting at the Peace House inside Panmunjom, in the buffer zone between the two Koreas, on Friday.

Credit
Reuters

Though Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump have outlined different approaches to negotiating with North Korea, they agree on the need to avoid the pitfalls that doomed previous rounds of talks.

One area of consensus is an attempt to more clearly establish the talks’ desired outcome from the outset, giving all parties greater incentive to move forward. Previous negotiations were open-ended, without specific goals that everyone agreed on.

South Korea and the United States also want to push the North to accept a timetable that would move quickly from the suspension of weapons tests — which it announced last week — to the dismantlement of its nuclear program. Some in the Trump administration have argued for completion in six months, but that may be an opening negotiating position given the challenges involved.

Mr. Bolton has occasionally cited the example of Libya, which shipped most of its nuclear equipment to an American weapons lab in Tennessee over the course of several weeks in late 2003. But much of that equipment was still in crates; there was little to dismantle.

Iran took a bit more than six months to take apart much of its program and ship 97 percent of its nuclear material from the country. But, like Libya, it had not yet built nuclear weapons.

North Korea is believed to have 20 to 60 such weapons — American intelligence agencies cannot agree on the number — in addition to a vast infrastructure of fuel production and weapons manufacturing facilities, much of it hidden in the mountains or underground. Mr. Samore argued that the North should be asked to hand over an inventory that the United States and its allies could compare with intelligence reports and seek to verify. That process would offer a first sign of whether Mr. Kim is coming clean, but could take years to complete.

“I do not know of any way of unilaterally verifying an agreement whereby North Korea gives up its nuclear arsenal,” said William J. Perry, a former defense secretary. “We do not know how many nuclear weapons North Korea has operational or under construction. We do not know where all of their nuclear facilities are located.”

Mr. Moon’s aides have argued that it is unrealistic to expect North Korea to simply surrender its arsenal without an “action for action” process that offers immediate benefits and builds trust. Early steps by the North could include the dismantlement of missile production facilities and allowing the return of international inspectors to nuclear sites, while the United States could begin normalizing diplomatic relations and easing some sanctions, like those that primarily affect North Korea’s population rather than officials, analysts say.

Mr. Kim has also endorsed “phased, synchronized steps” toward denuclearization.

But White House officials have repeatedly rejected the incremental approach, saying past administrations have tried it without success.

There have been hints of friction between the Trump administration and Mr. Moon’s team over the issue, with local news outlets in South Korea reporting that Mr. Bolton had pressed Seoul “not to move too far ahead” in its talks with Mr. Kim. A senior aide to Mr. Moon firmly denied the reports.

Continue reading the main story

Trump Rejects Notion He Has Made Too Many Concessions to North Korea


Photo

President Trump incorrectly claimed on Twitter on Sunday that North Korea had “agreed to denuclearization.”

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As negotiations over a summit meeting with the ruler of North Korea accelerate, President Trump on Sunday disputed any suggestion that he had made too many concessions at the outset of an unpredictable and potentially volatile diplomatic exercise.

From his Florida estate, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to criticize Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” who had questioned on his program whether the president had gotten anything in return for the “huge gift” he had given the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, by agreeing to meet with him.

On the show, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, had an answer teed up — that the North Koreans had given the United States “an agreement to stop testing” nuclear weapons.

But from his Twitter account, the president chose to answer Mr. Todd directly.

“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

North Korea has not in fact agreed to denuclearization. It has told the South Koreans that it is willing to discuss the issue, but Mr. Kim has made no such statement to his own people, as he did with his declaration that his country did not need to conduct further nuclear testing.

Continue reading the main story

Trump Rejects Notion He Has Made Too Many Concessions to North Korea


Photo

President Trump incorrectly claimed on Twitter on Sunday that North Korea had “agreed to denuclearization.”

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As negotiations over a summit meeting with the ruler of North Korea accelerate, President Trump on Sunday disputed any suggestion that he had made too many concessions at the outset of an unpredictable and potentially volatile diplomatic exercise.

From his Florida estate, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to criticize Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” who had questioned on his program whether the president had gotten anything in return for the “huge gift” he had given the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, by agreeing to meet with him.

On the show, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, had an answer teed up — that the North Koreans had given the United States “an agreement to stop testing” nuclear weapons.

But from his Twitter account, the president chose to answer Mr. Todd directly.

“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

North Korea has not in fact agreed to denuclearization. It has told the South Koreans that it is willing to discuss the issue, but Mr. Kim has made no such statement to his own people, as he did with his declaration that his country did not need to conduct further nuclear testing.

Continue reading the main story

News Analysis: Will Kim Jong-un Trade His Nuclear Arsenal to Rebuild Economy?


Despite lingering doubts about his nation’s ability to strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, Mr. Kim appeared to be making clear he intends to enter negotiations with Washington the way the Soviets did decades ago, as an established nuclear power.

The big question is whether he will relinquish his nuclear weapons.

South Korean policymakers argue that Mr. Kim is signaling a willingness to dismantle his nuclear arsenal for the right incentives, including economic aid, a peace treaty and other security guarantees from Washington — measures he needs to rebuild the North’s economy.

Photo

Mr. Kim is willing to discuss denuclearizing his country if provided with the right incentives, according to South Korean policymakers.

Credit
Korean Central News Agency

“He is seeking the kind of rapid economic growth seen in China,” said Lee Jong-seok, a former unification minister of South Korea. “The North Korea he envisions is different from his father’s North Korea.”

Mr. Lee also noted: “We have looked only on the nuclear side of Kim Jong-un’s rule, trying hard not to look at the other side. He is ready to bargain away nuclear weapons for the sake of economic development. If he were content with just feeding his people three meals a day, he would not give up his nuclear weapons.”

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute, a research think tank in South Korea, said Mr. Kim’s announcement would further raise “his people’s expectation for economic improvement.”

But North Korea has long said that its nuclear weapons are not bargaining chips, and Mr. Kim himself has called them “a treasured sword of justice” and “a powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding” his people’s “rights to existence.”

Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, called Mr. Kim’s decision just a replay of an old North Korean tactic — trying to confuse enemies with dramatic gestures in an attempt to win concessions, without ever intending to give up nuclear weapons.

“History repeats itself as farce,” he said, adding: “Kim Jong-un’s ploys are unoriginal and rather lazy.”

American officials say they have been repeatedly cheated by the North in previous talks on denuclearization. A deal in 1994 eventually collapsed when the United States accused the North of secretly enriching uranium. Another deal in 2005 fell apart in a dispute over how to verify a nuclear freeze. In 2012, the North launched a long-range rocket after agreeing to a moratorium on missile testing.

Mr. Kim’s decision to make the economy the nation’s priority and suspend nuclear tests was unanimously adopted at a Workers’ Party meeting on Friday. He also pledged to neither use nor proliferate nuclear weapons unless faced with a nuclear threat.

Photo

Farmworkers in Sangwon, North Korea, in 2017. Mr. Kim has said he would not let his people “tighten their belt again.”

Credit
Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

Washington, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo welcomed the move, although they cautioned that the suspension of tests was just one step toward denuclearization. The announcement made no mention of further steps.

Mr. Kim did pledge to create an “international environment favorable for the socialist economic construction.” Analysts said that will give him political cover for negotiating reductions in his arsenal.

“This reads more like an arms-control offer from a nuclear nation than an isolated regime coerced into disarmament,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. “It is a carefully circumscribed statement. It describes a partial cap of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs but not disarmament. Even under these restrictions, North Korea could continue to expand its capabilities significantly.”

But Mr. Mount said that a suspension of testing is important because “by most technical or military standards, North Korea has not completed an advanced nuclear arsenal.”

“It would be a significant accomplishment to halt their progress while we negotiate steps to roll back these programs,” he added.

In recent weeks, some officials and analysts in South Korea have argued that a much more fundamental shift might be underway in North Korea.

Under byungjin, Mr. Kim accelerated the North’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs, declaring late last year that it had completed a nuclear deterrent. At the same time, he has introduced market-oriented reforms, initiating a building boom in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

He also has announced plans to open special economic zones in his country, where he hopes to attract foreign investors, a dream that can be realized only if international sanctions against North Korea are eased.

Photo

In a turnaround, Mr. Kim has begun a series of stunning diplomatic initiatives, like visiting President Xi Jinping of China last month.

Credit
Ju Peng/Xinhua, via Associated Press

Mr. Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, ruled North Korea with the songun, or “military first,” policy, which focused resources on the military, favoring top generals with lucrative rights to export minerals and seafood. The military stood behind him as he led the country through a famine in the 1990s that killed more than two million people.

In 2012, in his first public speech as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un said he would not let his people “tighten their belt again,” a startling admission of failure by a member of a ruling family that is seen as godlike and faultless.

In 2013, his Workers’ Party adopted the byungjin policy, arguing that economic growth could occur only if the nation was secure. In a party congress in 2016, Mr. Kim said that byungjin was not a temporary step but a permanent strategy. In another party meeting in October, he said North Korea was “absolutely right” when it pursued byungjin.

Exaggerating American hostility and creating a sense of empowerment through nuclear weapons has become a hallmark of state propaganda legitimizing Mr. Kim’s dynastic rule. Mr. Kim also has engineered bloody purges, killing scores of top generals, his uncle and his half brother, to establish unchallenged authority.

Mr. Kim began his shift toward declaring victory on the nuclear front with a speech on New Year’s Day in which he said the United States would never “dare to ignite a war against me and our country.” He has since engaged in a diplomatic whirlwind, visiting Beijing to confer with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and initiating the upcoming meetings with President Moon and President Trump.

His ultimate motives remain uncertain. Some analysts say that Mr. Kim is driven by a desperate need to ease sanctions that have crippled his country, and may try to get away with a temporary and deceptive freeze of his nuclear program. Others argue that he is acting in confidence that his nuclear weapons give him new leverage to rebuild the economy.

If Mr. Kim is serious about economic growth, though, he will need the world’s help, analysts say. They point to the example set in the 1980s by China’s paramount leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, whose opening to the West was critical to his country’s boom.

“Whether Kim Jong-un will become the Deng Xiaoping of North Korea will depend on whether the international community, including the United States and South Korea, can provide security guarantees and opportunities for economic development so that it will denuclearize,” Mr. Cheong said.

Continue reading the main story

Treaty to Formally End Korean War Is Being Discussed, South Confirms


China said on Wednesday that it wanted to play a positive role in formally ending the war, in which an estimated three million Chinese soldiers fought. But it stopped short of endorsing the idea of a treaty, which is likely to involve extensive negotiations and would require the recognition of North Korea by the United States.

“China’s attitude is open and supportive to any peaceful means to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue through consultations,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said when asked at a news briefing in Beijing about supporting a possible treaty.

China has promoted the idea of a peace treaty from time to time over the past two decades, to little avail. This time, analysts said on Wednesday, Beijing’s enthusiasm for the idea is likely to be tempered by rising tensions with the Trump administration over trade and Taiwan. Chinese officials are livid over Washington’s move this week to prevent American suppliers from selling parts to the Chinese tech giant ZTE, they said.

“If the two countries cannot settle the trade issues, that will have a significant impact on China’s attitude toward helping the United States on North Korea,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at the Beijing-based Renmin University. “The ongoing situation with trade is complicating and undermining cooperation.”

Photo

President Xi Jinping of China, left, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in Beijing last month. As a signatory to the armistice that ended the Korean War, China would have to be involved in a treaty bringing it to a formal close, South Korean officials say.

Credit
Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At the same time, Mr. Cheng said, China’s relations with North Korea have rapidly warmed in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s surprise visit to Beijing last month. That could give China leverage with North Korea against the United States as Washington works out the terms of the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

South Korean officials said on Wednesday that they hoped Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon, during their meeting next week, could jointly announce a willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ban military hostilities there, as a precursor to a peace treaty.

But Mr. Cheng and other Chinese analysts expressed skepticism that a peace treaty would be signed anytime soon. “If the United States is to sign with North Korea, it needs to do several things,” Mr. Cheng said. “It has to talk to China, and the United States has to recognize North Korea diplomatically.”

Only countries with diplomatic relations can sign a treaty, he said. “A treaty is not a memorandum or a communiqué.”

Some analysts in South Korea have suggested that Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim could agree to withdraw weapons and troops from the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, which was created with the armistice and still divides the Koreas. Despite its name, the zone is the world’s most heavily armed border. Although the armistice allows only rifles and pistols within the area, both sides have deployed much heavier weapons and operate guard posts inside the zone.

In the past, the North’s conditions for its denuclearization have included the withdrawal of the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, a demand that Washington and Seoul have adamantly rejected. But Mr. Kim has recently indicated that he could be more flexible about the American military presence in the South if his country no longer felt threatened by it, according to officials and analysts in Seoul.

Photo

South Korean soldiers at the so-called truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas. Despite its name, the zone, established with the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, is the world’s most heavily armed border.

Credit
Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We think that North Korea is more realistic about the security environment on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Chung said on Wednesday, referring to Mr. Kim’s decision not to object to recent joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. The North has typically used such drills as a pretext to conduct weapons tests and reject dialogue.

In 2000, Mr. Kim’s late father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, told the visiting South Korean president Kim Dae-jung that he could support the American military presence as a peacekeeping force in the region, according to South Korean officials who attended their meeting.

“I am quite sure that if relations between North Korea and the United States improve, the North will not demand the withdrawal of American troops in signing the peace treaty,” Lee Jong-seok, a former South Korean unification minister, said during a forum on Wednesday.

Formally ending the war would not necessarily mean that Mr. Kim would demand that all American troops be removed, said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. “There could be a partial withdrawal,” he said. “Remember, all this maneuvering is going on while the United States and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises.”

Still, Mr. Kim seems likely to demand at least a major reduction in troops, said Hugh White, a senior military strategist who worked at the Australian Department of Defense and is now a professor at Australian National University. One outcome, he said, could be a substantial troop withdrawal in exchange for Mr. Kim’s scrapping his intercontinental ballistic missile program.

Such an agreement could appeal to Mr. Trump with his “America First” perspective, Mr. White said. From that point of view, “it could make sense to withdraw from Korea if in return Kim Jong-un scrapped the ICBM program and thus ceased to threaten the continental United States,” he said.

That, Mr. White noted, would transform the American military presence in Asia. “It would be a big win for China,” he said.

Continue reading the main story

What is the O.P.C.W., and Can It Referee on Chemical Weapons in Syria?


Its job is to monitor compliance with that treaty, and to work toward ridding the world of chemical weapons. It also has a role in verifying the elimination of those weapons.

The group describes itself as “an independent, autonomous, international organization with a working relationship with the United Nations.”

In 2013, Syria signed the convention and agreed to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles. On a joint mission with the United Nations, the organization arranged for the transport of all chemical weapons the Syrian government had declared for disposal overseas.

Over 96 percent of state-declared stockpiles around the world have been destroyed under the watch of the organization. However, as seems to be the case in Syria, that doesn’t necessarily mean that countries no longer have chemical weapons, because there is no way to guarantee that they declared everything they had.

How can inspectors work in a war zone?

The organization was not created to work in battle zones and has had to adapt to send its inspectors to countries at war. In 2014, allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria prompted the group to dispatch a fact-finding mission to the country, the first time it had sent a team to an area of active conflict. (They first visited Syria in 2013.)

Photo

Residents of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, protested last April after a suspected chemical weapons attack on their town.

Credit
Omar Haj Kadour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Collecting samples while making sure they can be used for evidence takes time, and such missions can turn investigators into targets. While working in Syria in 2014, for example, their convoy came under fire.

Last year, while looking into further allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, investigators did not visit the town of Khan Sheikhoun because of security fears. Instead, they relied on witness accounts and samples collected from the site. That opened their conclusions to criticism from Russia and Syria, which contended that Damascus had disposed of all its chemical weapons.

Can the O.P.C.W. point the finger?

No. The organization’s job is to establish whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

“It’s dealing with things it wasn’t really intended to deal with,” said Richard Guthrie, a chemical weapons expert and editor of CBW Events, a website that tries to document uses of chemical and biological weapons.

When the Chemical Weapons Convention was being negotiated, Mr. Guthrie said, “the concern was large-scale use of chemical weapons on the battlefield — that had happened in the Iran-Iraq war.” But that is different from identifying the relatively small-scale use of chemical weapons, like the alleged case in Syria, or the attack on the spy and his daughter in Britain.

Until the end of last year, the organization had a mandate to pass on its findings to a Joint Investigative Mechanism, established by the United Nations Security Council, which would try to identify the perpetrators of attacks. But last year Russia vetoed the extension of that mandate.

That leaves a disconnect: Even if the organization finds that chemical weapons were used in Douma, the question of who is to blame could remain unresolved.

Continue reading the main story

Kim Jong-un’s China Visit Strengthens His Hand in Nuclear Talks


In images and in words, Mr. Kim and Mr. Xi signaled that they had repaired the relationship between their countries, which had soured as Mr. Kim had accelerated his nuclear program and Mr. Xi had responded by endorsing — and enforcing — more punishing sanctions proposed by the United States.

“The friendship between North Korea and China that was personally created and nurtured together by former generations of leaders from both our sides is unshakable,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Xi, according to Xinhua. Mr. Xi went out of his way to recall the warm friendship between his father, a high-ranking Communist Party official from the Mao era, and Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, the North’s previous leader.

It is too soon to say whether the meeting marks a softening of China’s posture toward Mr. Kim or of its commitment to international sanctions against North Korea. But the visit served to highlight Beijing’s unique leverage over North Korea, even as Mr. Trump is threatening China with a trade war.

Photo

Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi and their wives at a banquet in Beijing this week. The visit highlighted Beijing’s unique leverage over North Korea, even as President Trump is threatening China with a trade war.

Credit
North Korean Central News Agency

Mr. Trump can talk about maintaining “maximum pressure” on the North, but ultimately China — the North’s main trade partner — still decides what that means, because it can choose how strictly to enforce sanctions.

“China is saying to the United States and the rest of the world: Anyone who wants a deal on anything on the future of the Korean Peninsula, and certainly something which deals with nukes, don’t think you can walk around us, guys,” Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who is on good terms with the Chinese leadership, said in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The Chinese government said it had briefed the White House on Mr. Kim’s visit, adding that Mr. Xi had sent a personal message to Mr. Trump. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump expressed optimism on Twitter about the potential for diplomatic success, saying there was “a good chance” that Mr. Kim would “do what is right for his people and for humanity.”

But there was little in the public accounts of Mr. Xi’s discussions with Mr. Kim to support such a positive assessment. Though Xinhua quoted Mr. Kim as saying he was open to talks with Mr. Trump and committed to denuclearization, North Korea’s own state media made no mention of either.

Xinhua also quoted Mr. Kim as proposing “phased, synchronized measures” by South Korea and the United States — a phrase that suggests a desire to negotiate a gradual drawdown of his arsenal, but which also echoes the North’s position in past talks that dragged on and ultimately failed. One major difference between then and now is that North Korea has a far more advanced nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, John R. Bolton, meanwhile, has expressed little patience for extended negotiations. He has said that North Korea should be asked to park its nuclear arsenal at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in Tennessee.

If China decides to soften its stance on sanctions and act as North Korea’s protector, Mr. Kim will enter the talks with Mr. Trump in a considerably stronger position than he otherwise would have.

“It is very unlikely that Kim Jong-un consulted with the Chinese before offering to meet Trump,” said Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University in Wales. “This in itself was a rebellious affront to the Chinese leadership. But by doing this, Kim immeasurably strengthened his negotiating position vis-à-vis the Chinese. He came to Beijing not as a supplicant but as an equal.”

Photo

Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, left, in Beijing with then-President Jiang Zemin of China in 2000. When this visit took place, Mr. Kim — like his son today — had held power in North Korea for about six years and was preparing for a summit meeting with South Korea’s president.

Credit
Xinhua, via Associated Press

Many analysts said they believed China had initiated the visit, essentially telling Mr. Kim that he could no longer afford to be cavalier about his bigger, richer neighbor, and telegraphing to Mr. Trump that America could pay heavily for keeping China on the outside.

Beneath the new bonhomie in the official accounts of Mr. Kim’s trip, the edgy nature of the seven-decade-old China-North Korea relationship was still apparent.

No agreements between the two leaders were announced, even on basic issues. Mr. Xi, in his public comments, made no reference to Mr. Kim’s expected meeting with Mr. Trump, an omission that may have reflected Mr. Xi’s displeasure at being left on the sidelines.

There was also no public comment in Beijing about what Mr. Kim was planning to offer Mr. Trump or what role China would play as the talks approached, questions that are of the utmost importance to China.

While China supports the international effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, it has also been careful not to press the North hard enough to risk a collapse of the Kim regime, which could potentially lead to a united Korean Peninsula, under an American security umbrella, on China’s border.

“China needs to know North Korea’s calculations,” said Da Wei, a professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing. “Kim knows the negotiations cannot fully succeed without China’s support. China’s involvement will make any solution more viable.”

Some analysts said Mr. Kim was repeating a pattern set by his father, who visited China shortly before his 2000 summit meeting with South Korea’s then-president, Kim Dae-jung. Kim Jong-il was then about six years into his tenure as North Korea’s leader, just as his son is now.

“Now six years into his own reign, Kim III seeks to play the role of the proactive, peace-seeking statesman,” said Lee Sung-yoon of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

He may hope to get Mr. Trump to settle for “another faulty, open-ended, non-biting nuclear deal” that would make it “politically near-impossible for the U.S. to talk about, let alone implement, a pre-emptive strike, John Bolton at the head of the National Security Council notwithstanding,” Mr. Lee said.

Continue reading the main story